It's no secret that the UK is about to see significant changes to the selling of elephant ivory, including antique examples. In 2018 the Ivory Act was passed which, once enforced, will ban the commercial activity of ivory. This will affect the value of ivory in all ways - it’s insurance value, it’s probate value and its market value. The bill is thought to be coming into effect in Spring 2022, but what do we know about it so far?
The Ivory Act 2018 quite simply prohibits the dealing of ivory. This includes buying, hiring and selling within the UK, and also prevents exporting from, and importing to the UK of ivory items for the purpose of selling or hiring. You will also not be able to buy an item made of ivory from the UK then export it. However, people will not be prevented from owning ivory, nor gifting or bequeathing pieces, and items can be exported and imported providing they are for personal use. Of course, one will need to know the rules and regulations of other countries, as well as the EU (if this applies).* The impact on antique ivory items will be notable and items made entirely of, or consisting of a certain proportion of ivory will become valueless on the open market. These pieces will not need to be insured, nor included in probate or inheritance tax valuations.
There are still many factors to be confirmed regarding the bill, including the exact date from which it will be effective. We only know that it will be Spring 2022. Current understandings suggest there will be a grace period for items listed for auction. With vendors sometimes consigning items several months in advance of sale dates, it is hoped that there will be a period of four or five weeks (at least) following the enforcement of the bill, during which time already consigned antique ivory items can still be sold. It is thought that the same will apply to antique ivory items which are in the process of being exported or imported (for the purpose of ‘dealing’) too.
When it comes to selling, the ban will allow for some exemptions, which have been listed as:
Items which contain or are made of ivory which pre-date 1918 and are considered of outstandingly high artistic, cultural or historical value may be offered an exemption certificate.
The definition of ‘outstandingly high…’ is yet to be established, but rarity of the piece and the importance of the item (as an example of its type) will be taken into consideration.
Each item must be registered before being offered for sale, and it is thought this will cost £250. In order to register the piece, an application should be submitted to a panel of experts who will decide if it qualifies for exemption. Should an application be refused then a new application can be made, or an appeal launched.
Given the application and registration cost, the value of the item will be relevant here: items will need to be deemed valuable enough to pursue the process. Exactly who the panel of experts are has not been revealed yet, but it will presumably include individuals from museums, and possibly one or two people representing the commercial side of the art world.
There will also be further exemptions for items under section 10 of the Act:
Portrait miniatures, which pre-date 1918. Miniatures must not measure more than 320cm squared.
Items with a low ivory content, which pre-date 1947. The ivory needs to be integral to said item, and the volume of ivory must be less than 10% of the total volume of the material of which the item is made.
Pre-1975 musical instruments where the volume of ivory in the instrument is less than 20% of the total volume of the material of which the instrument is made. This will not include anything that, although capable of being played as a musical instrument, was not made primarily for that purpose. It does not include bows, plectrums or other things made for the purpose of playing a musical instrument.
Items being sold and purchased by qualifying museums. ‘Qualifying museums’ are defined by various factors, depending on where in the UK the museum is. If the museum is outside the UK, it is required to be a member of the International Council of Museums to be ‘qualifying’.
All these items will be required to be registered with Animal Health & Plant Agency before being sold. Registrations will cost £20 and will be in effect from February 2022. It is likely that certificates will take several weeks to be processed.
The exempt items will therefore still retain a value in the open market, and should not be dismissed when being considered for insurance, probate or inheritance tax valuations.
Another factor which we should also be aware of are possible changes to the rules surrounding other types of ivory, beyond elephant teeth and tusks. In 2021 DEFRA (The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs) launched a consultation regarding extending the ivory ban to include narwhals, hippos, walruses, killer whales and sperm whales. This will affect antique works of art such as scrimshaw tusks and teeth, and narwhal tusks. Results of the consultation are still pending, but should the Ivory Act be extended then we may find that all ivory, in the widest use of the term, will become valueless also. For now, it’s all a bit of a waiting game…
When the time comes, registering exempt items will be something which Lyon & Turnbull will do on behalf of our/your clients. Please get in touch with Theodora Burrell should you have questions, or would like assistance with selling or valuing ivory at: email@example.com
For more information and to see the Ivory Act in full, please visit: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2018/30/contents/enacted
Theodora Burrell is a specialist in Fine Furniture & Works of Art and Decorative Arts: Design from 1860. She also specialises in European ceramics and glass, taxidermy and tribal art.
Theo joined Lyon & Turnbull as a specialist in the Antiques department in July 2011, where she ran the seasonal antiques auctions for over a year before introducing the Interiors sale format. She now works primarily on the Fine Furniture and Decorative Arts auctions.
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