New York is a step closer to adopting new restrictions on ivory after the State Assembly passed the bill to bar nearly all sales of elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn.
A last-minute amendment to the bill allows for the trade in
antiques where ivory or rhino horn forms less than 20% of the
The bill, opposed by Sotheby's, Christie's and trade
associations including the Art and Antiques Dealers League of
America and the Appraisers Association of America, was passed
almost unanimously on June 17. For the measure to become law, it
now needs to be adopted by the New York State Senate and then
signed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Governor Cuomo had earlier met with law makers to thrash out
amendments to the bill that will offer just a few crumbs of comfort
to the art dealing community and owners of antique ivory works of
art. While the ban remains near wholesale, the revised proposals
allow for a handful of narrow exceptions.
A clause to the final bill (A10143) introduced by primary
sponsor Assemblyman Robert K. Sweeney, chairman of the Assembly
Standing Committee on Environmental Conservation, on June 16
permits a commercial transaction when: "The ivory article or
rhinoceros horn is part of a bona fide antique and is less than
twenty per cent by volume of such antique, and the antique status
of such antique is established by the owner or seller thereof with
historical documentation evidencing provenance and showing the
antique to be not less than 100 years old."
In short, items of furniture with ivory escutcheons or objects
with small quantities of ivory inlay will still be permitted, but a
Gothic ivory diptych or a Qing brush pot (solid ivory), a portrait
miniature on ivory or an Art Deco bronze and ivory figure (made
after 1914) will not.
Concessions and Penalties
Further concessions - again only applicable when documentation
can be supplied - include string and wind musical instruments and
pianos made prior to 1975, along with transactions made for
educational and scientific purposes e.g. by museums or as transfers
to the legal beneficiaries.
The New York bill also sets out tougher penalties for those who
violate the rules. Where both the antiques trade and the
legislature have been in agreement is that penalties for breaking
wildlife trafficking laws were too light, with fines for the sale
of post-CITES convention ivory amounting to little more than a slap
on the wrist.
The new bill would increase the penalties to a fine of $3000 or
twice the value of the article for the first offence, $6000 or
three times the value of the article for the second offence, and a
Class D felony for articles exceeding $25,000 - meaning between
five and ten years in prison plus a significant fine.
A similar law moving through the legislature in nearby New
Jersey has been passed by both the Assembly and the Senate, again
by a near-unanimous vote.
The move to make New York State a no-go area for trade in ivory
follows a January hearing in New York City attended by interested
parties, including the antiques trade.
Assemblyman Sweeney believes the current laws that allow trade
in worked antique ivory are subject to abuse and, in many cases,
unworkable. At the hearing, officers for the United States Fish and
Wildlife Service highlighted the problems of determining the age of
ivory and distinguishing between African elephant ivory and ivory
from other species (including mammoth ivory that will also be
banned under the proposed legislation), while the falsification of
paperwork was said to be a frequent problem.
In an article titled Africa's elephants, New York's
problem published in the run-up to the vote, Cyrus Vance,
Manhattan District Attorney, wrote: "A recent state-wide survey
indicated that 80% of New Yorkers support a permanent ban on ivory
sales. They feel this way even when presented with the argument
that a ban would negatively impact businesses such as auction
houses and antiques dealers, as well as the rights of property
US Federal laws, covering the entire United States, introduced in February
already tightly restrict ivory imports and interstate sales.
In essence, the new regulations ban the commercial import of
African ivory of any age, while domestic and export trade will be
limited to antiques defined as objects more than 100 years old. The
new rules will also apply to rhinoceros horn, sperm whale teeth,
tortoiseshell and certain woods that are also regulated under the
USA's 1973 Endangered Species Act.
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