THE State of California has recently begun to strictly enforce a law banning the sale of ivory regardless of age. Dealers and auctioneers offering antiques made from ivory or including ivory among their constituent parts have had merchandise seized.
Laws pertaining to ivory sales in the
USA differ from state to state. California's have been much amended
across recent decades but are clearly written to explicitly forbid
the trade in any part of any creature on the endangered species
There is no provision in the law for
when an item was made or how long someone has owned it, and it was
for this reason that eBay introduced a global ban on the sale of
all types of ivory at the beginning of 2009. Possession with intent
to sell is considered a misdemeanour level crime in California,
punishable by fines of between $1000 and $5000 per
The legislation's primary target is
the modern ivory trinkets traded in quantity along the West
Common sense has prevailed in most
cases, with flagship sales of Asian art or arms and armour and the
West Coast staging of the Arts of Pacific Asia show
among many fine art and antiques events held in California without
However, following reports earlier in
the month that bona fide antique ivories collectively valued at
more than $10,000 had been seized at a Californian outdoor
fleamarket, on February 18 armed and uniformed agents from the
California Department of Fish and Game raided the viewing of a sale
held by the Slawinski Auction Company of Scotts Valley.
They confiscated around 40 ivories
valued at $150,000 scheduled to be auctioned on February 19. The
'contraband' (all of the items were thought to be more than a
century old) has now become the property of a court, with a judge
to decide soon if it should be destroyed.
Meanwhile in San Francisco, Bonhams
were preparing for one of their highly successful Asian art sales
on March 13. It included more than 125 lots containing elephant
ivory but on March 9-10 all were abruptly pulled from the
Bonhams told reporters the decision
was taken without pressure from state authorities. "We withdrew the
ivories from our March sale proactively," they said. "We sought
clarification from the state, but when it became apparent that such
guidance was not forthcoming quickly, and our preview was
approaching, we elected to withdraw the ivory lots in the interests
of our clients.
"We've contacted the clients and
informed them that we're deferring sales of their items in
California until we get more clarification."
When asked by the Maine Antique
Digest what may now trigger an ivory seizure in
California, Patrick Foy, spokesman for the Enforcement Division of
the California Department of Fish and Game, said: "If it's sitting
in a case with a price tag on it, it is a violation."