Tags: Ivory | Ban | Antiques | Dealers

Ivory Ban Punishes Antiques Dealers

Thursday, 02 July 2015 02:36 PM Current | Bio | Archive

If the new ivory banning laws hold, no one in America will be allowed to buy, trade or sell anything made totally or partially of elephant or rhino ivory unless they can prove a piece existed prior to 1914. Pianos with ivory keys, walking sticks, anything inlaid with ivory, and even buttons will be off limits, with few exceptions.

Since 1989, selling new ivory has been banned to stop the poaching of tusks, but it has made little difference. The species has been diminished because poachers kill elephants at an alarming pace and rapidly sell or trade tusks to underground traffickers and terrorists.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service supported President Obama’s Executive Order to ban all commercial imports, exports, sales, and donations of ivory less than 100 years old. The law was enforced on May 31, 2014.

An ivory owner must prove their ivory is over 100 years old by providing documentation papers that are close to impossible to secure. To verify an item’s age, one must fill out lengthy forms, obtain DNA and carbon tests, a certificate from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and an appraisal from experts — most of whom no longer are willing to place a price value on ivory that cannot be sold. They do not want to become entangled in expensive lawsuits.

In some cases, the law requires original docking import certificates accompany sales of 100-year-old pieces, but those certificates are nearly non-existent, thus lawmakers are tying the hands of those who own ivory and are turning once valuable ivory commodities into worthless assets. Some states — like Massachusetts, Vermont, and Rhode Island — expand the definition of “ivory” to include wooly mammoth and marine mammals that lived 4,000 years ago, which does nothing to help endangered species!

Unfortunately, throughout the centuries carvers did not provide notarized affidavits and certificates of authenticity; most deceased relatives did not include original receipts and descriptions with their bequests; and virtually no one can prove when certain pieces of ivory entered the U.S. Thus, the majority of those who own ivory are stuck with it. It’s virtually worthless because most of it cannot be sold.

Although the federal law states that those who successfully test ivory and obtain CITES approval and a certified appraisal can sell 100-year old pieces, most people can’t afford the cost of tests and appraisals, which often are higher than ivory is worth.

The Obama administration has outlawed all ivory imports, even recognized antiques (which are tightly regulated and require CITES certifications). Twenty-two states have banned the import, export, and sales of all ivory products, to date, and more will join their ranks. This action hurts innocent owners of antique ivory. Even if they get the proper documents, they cannot sell ivory over state lines.

Authorities feel a worldwide ban of ivory combats illegal wildlife trafficking that gives terrorist groups money to buy weapons. If that’s the case, they should go after poachers with a vengeance and get rid of them, once and for all, not penalize those who have collected, bought, and sold antique ivory.

If governments really care about the demise of the African elephant and rhino, why do they still allow wealthy hunters to kill two trophies a year, while it criminalizes those who want to sell a tiny pendant with a piece of ivory in it?

It will take thousands of agents to enforce the new ban laws. They will have to search sales at auctions, flea markets, shows, exhibitions, house sales, import and export cargo stations, and more. Governments do not have the manpower to police everyone every day, thus hundreds of thousands of abusers will slip through the cracks, and illegal trafficking will continue to thrive.

Most likely, the new ivory law will cause more people to participate in underground trading; sell online using fake descriptions; secretly make cash deals with sleazy dealers; and forge documents, invoices, appraisals, and bogus CITES certificates to accompany unlawful sales.

The Obama administration has made it impossible for legitimate dealers and collectors to sell their once-valuable antique ivory collections, and certain dealers who sent ivory pieces to exhibitions abroad in 2013 and 2014, have been prohibited from bringing the ivory back to the U.S. Thus, they are being forced to forfeit their investments or become embroiled in lawsuits.

A person can own elephant and rhino ivory, but buying and selling it is a gross misdemeanor and can result in jail time, heavy fines and more. Mammoth ivory is no longer included in the federal ban, thus woolly mammoth ivory sales in most states are legal, but this loophole most likely will prompt traffickers to tag elephant ivory as that of mammoth, so they can conduct business as usual.

If you own one piece or a vast collection of ivory objects, your best bet is to enjoy owning it and forget about selling or trading it. Perhaps the law will be changed, but until it does, Big Brother is controlling the market and playing hardball.

In April 2015, the Antique Scrimshaw Collectors Association called upon legislators to amend laws that prohibit and criminalize the free exchange of 19th-century folk art and scrimshaw made from whale teeth. Like millions of people, they are against state and federal laws that ban the sale of ivory altogether, and they question if the new ban laws are unconstitutional. How does a ban on whale ivory help protect the African elephant and rhinos? It doesn’t!

Poachers’ sales of ivory are done in secrecy, not in major auction houses that are frequently inspected. The underground criminal world of ivory trading will continue to expand until authorities crack down on poachers, arrest them, enforce harsh punishments, and guard elephant herds from being attacked. That’s the solution to stop the poaching of elephants and rhinos, not banning all trade of ivory worldwide.

Patricia Jobe Pierce is a freelance writer, art historian, art dealer-consultant, certified AAA appraiser, public speaker, photographer and American art authenticator for museums, auction houses and collectors. She graduated from Boston University with a BFA in 1965, is owner and director of Pierce Galleries, Inc. in Nantucket and Hingham, Mass., and is author of many works, including, "Art Collecting & Investing: The Inner Workings and the Underbelly of the Art World." For more of her submissions, Click Here Now.

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The new ivory law will cause more people to participate in underground trading; sell online using fake descriptions; secretly make cash deals with sleazy dealers; and forge documents, invoices, appraisals, and bogus CITES certificates to accompany unlawful sales.
Ivory, Ban, Antiques, Dealers
Thursday, 02 July 2015 02:36 PM
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