Facts of The Ivory Act

by Theodora Burrell, Lyon & Turnbull


The Ivory Act 2018 will come into force on 6th June, 2022. From this date, the ivory ban will be in place, and it will be illegal to deal in ivory items unless they have a valid registration or exemption certificate. Items which meet the exemptions can now be registered online.

Items can now be registered online here 



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 will be effective from 6th June 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. 


Rare & important French Gothic ivory casket

Rare & important French Gothic ivory casket, dating to circa 1330 and sold by Lyon & Turnbull for £1,455,000 (including premium) in May 2021. An item like this would have to be proved to be of ‘outstandingly high artistic, cultural or historical value’ to be able to be sold once the Ivory Act 2018 is enforced.


When it comes to selling, the ban will allow for some exemptions, which have been listed as:

Section 2:

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:

Section 10:

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 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 cost £20 and can be applied for now here. Upon registering the item you will receive an immediate registration number which must be listed on all online and in all printed catalogues, and advertisements, alongside the item.

Silver Italian School tureen and cover

Silver Italian School tureen and cover, circa 1910, with ivory mounts, sold by Lyon & Turnbull for £938 (including premium) in April 2021. In order to meet the exemptions requirement of the act the ivory must be less than 10% of the total volume, and pre-date 1947.


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…

Registering exempt items is something which Lyon & Turnbull can 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: theo.burrell@lyonandturnbull.com 

For more information and to see the Ivory Act in full, please visit: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2018/30/contents/enacted 

*The EU will be advising member states to stop importing and re-exporting ivory from 19 January 2022. There is an exemption for important pre-1947 items sold to museums and pre-1975 musical instruments currently used by performing musicians.
N.B. for the purpose of this article ‘ivory’ refers to elephant tusks or teeth, unless otherwise stated. 


Theo Burrell 

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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