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MFA# 17.1735


Snail netsuke
MFA# 11.2316


Any of trees of the genus Diospyros, with very dark, hard, heavy heartwood. These trees are native to Africa (black or Gaboon ebony, D.dendo), to India and Ceylon (D.ebenum), east India (Coromandel or Macassar ebony, D.melanoxylon), Sri Lanka (Calamander ebony, D.quaesita). Ebony's dense, smooth-grain wood has been valued from the earliest times and was imported to Egypt from Nubia and the Sudan (Kuhn 1986). It is extremely durable and resistant to rotting, fungi and powder post beetles. Ebony, even though it is difficult to work and carve, is valued for decorative items, inlay work, black piano keys, musical instruments, and tool handles. It is rarely found in large pieces.

Several other dark, heavy woods from unrelated species are also called ebony because of their color. These are: green ebony (Cocuswood), brown ebony (Coffeewood), blue ebony and Mozambique ebony (African blackwood).

Ebony bowl
MFA# 1981.406

Synonyms and Related Terms

black ebony (Diospyros dendo); Macassar ebony (Diospyros melanoxylon); Calamander ebony (Diospyros quaesita); ébène (Fr.); Ebenholz (Deut.); ebano (It.); ébano (Esp., Port.); kokutan (Jap.); (Diospyros ebenum); Gaboon ebony; marblewood; partridgewood; acapau; kaki; Coromandel ebony

Personal Risks

May cause skin allergies.

Macassar ebony
MFA# 1990.272

Physical and Chemical Properties

Rings: obscure. Pores: diffuse, fine. Grain: obscure or invisible. Rays: obscure.

Extremely hard and heavy.

Density 69-83 ppcf
Molecular Weight specific gravity = 1.08

Additional Images

Resources and Citations

  • H.Kuhn, Conservation and Restoration of Works of Art and Antiquities, Butterworths, London, 1986.
  • G.S.Brady, Materials Handbook, McGraw-Hill Book Co., New York, 1971 Comment: p. 285
  • Ralph Mayer, A Dictionary of Art Terms and Techniques, Harper and Row Publishers, New York, 1969 (also 1945 printing)
  • F. H. Titmuss, Commercial Timbers of the World, The Technical Press Ltd., London, 1965 Comment: 70-80 ppcf
  • H.L.Edlin, What Wood is That?, Viking Press, New York, 1969
  • CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, Robert Weast (ed.), CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida, v. 61, 1980 Comment: density=69-83 ppcf (1.11-1.33 g/cm3)
  • Michael McCann, Artist Beware, Watson-Guptill Publications, New York City, 1979