James Lewis of Bamfords
James Lewis of Bamfords who has introduced a voluntary ban in selling solid ivory objects at the Derbyshire auction house.

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The firm, founded and run by James Lewis, a patron of animal charity the Born Free Foundation, believes it is the first UK auctioneer to adopt such a voluntary ban.

Bamfords will continue to sell antiques with ivory components, such as finials in silver teapots and furniture with ivory inlay.

“Certain parts of the environmental lobby believe in an outright ban – I disagree with that wholeheartedly,” Lewis told ATG. “My issue is with solid antique ivory, such as carved tusks and large Okimono figures, which end up on shelves in Hong Kong beside modern ivory.”

BBC Documentary

Lewis courted controversy by being quoted in a recent BBC documentary Saving Africa’s Elephants saying there is a link between demand for antique ivory and the modern poached variety.

However, he told ATG: “They filmed me speaking for hours and showed a clip lasting two or three minutes. They asked me ‘do you think trade in all antique ivory should be banned’ and I said no. But I’ve worked with the BBC for years and always found them to be very balanced.

“I find myself stuck in the middle. The antiques trade feels I’m letting them down when a programme like this goes out. They don’t see the number of meetings I have with the environmental lobby trying to explain how the antiques business works.”

“Old and New Ivory on the Same Shelf”

A well-known figure in the industry, Lewis has spent 25 years in the auctioneering business – first at Neales in Nottingham and from 2002, at Bamfords – and has made regular appearances roles on TV shows Flog It! and Bargain Hunt.

At a NAVA conference in 2014, Lewis warned that the antique ivory trade was in the last-chance saloon and that dealers and auctioneers needed to link with environmentalists.

“I’ve always appreciated the beauty and skill in antique ivory objects and, for 20 years of my auctioneering career, thought that selling old ivory didn’t affect elephants today,” said Lewis. “But in recent years my opinion has shifted as I learned about the new market for modern ivory.

“I’ve been to Hong Kong five times, where you see old ivory on the same shelf as new ivory. I realised then there’s a major market in the Far East that looks at ivory as a commodity as well as an art form, and that the old ivory market is fuelling modern ivory demand.”