The British Art Market Federation (BAMF) has conceded significant ground in its effort to preserve a trading environment for antique ivory.
The dealer association chose to fight the corner for the upper echelons of the antiques trade in its presentation to government as part of the recent Defra consultation.
The proposed ivory ban is set to hit sales of antique ivory carvings the most, according to submissions made by BAMF.
Chairman Anthony Browne conceded: “A lot of low-value items where the owner or seller cannot make the case that it is museum quality will not be able to be sold. However, we resisted the plan for an exemption based on value. In fact, some items of historical importance may be low in value, but we have argued against a cut-off in terms of value.”
BAMF argues the ‘museum quality’ definition already exists in the art market, having been first used in 1975 relating to inheritance tax.
“The public concern has largely been around the ivory carvings. We settled on a consensus view of our members. Of the 8000 businesses in art and antiques, we don’t represent all of them, only a small number.”
The presentation to government underlined the division that now exists in the trade over the ivory issue. BAMF, representing associations including LAPADA, BADA and SOFAA, is backing the introduction of a licensing system (see below). The focus upon items of ‘museum quality’ will also exclude significant numbers of bona fide antique objects.
The current proposals by government for exemptions to an ivory ban are: musical instruments; items containing only a small proportion of ivory (de minimis); items of significant artistic, cultural and historic value; and sales to and between museums.
There are question marks over what will fall under the ‘de minimis’ rule and it is unclear whether items such as ivory-handled cutlery could be allowed. Browne said BAMF has argued that objects that are “not largely made of ivory should fall within the de minimis rule”.
The de minimis amount will be up for debate within Defra and BAMF will continue to discuss this with government.
Defra said it will respond shortly with a summary of the responses it received. Over the coming months it will then set out a legislative proposal as the ban will need to be enacted through primary legislation.
Licensing and certification
A licensing scheme of the kind proposed by BAMF would mean all antiques wholly or largely composed of ivory could only be offered for sale if accompanied by a certificate.
But how would the exemption for ‘items of artistic, cultural, or historic significance’ (one generally opposed by animal welfare groups) operate in practice?
BAMF suggests that the criteria should be collectively defined as objects of ‘museum quality’ – a definition used since 1975 in connection with objects qualifying for conditional exemption from inheritance tax.
It proposes that a group of independent experts approved by Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) be formed to certify that each object meets the criteria.
Certificates, assuming a standard format agreed by APHA, would include an image of the ivory carving plus other information consistent with that required under the existing CITES and ‘Article 10’ regime.
Each certificate, signed by an officer, would carry a unique reference number with a copy kept by the administering bodies.
There would be one certificate per item (unless it is part of a set or pair) and they could be re-used by subsequent sellers, but with an expiry date.
BAMF says BADA and LAPADA, who already have in place a system for issuing formal certificates of age for overseas customs authorities, should be responsible for issuing certificates that would be subject to a fixed fee, plus travel expenses where appropriate.
The minimum charge suggested would be £50.
BAMF, the umbrella trade association for some of the most respected firms in our business, has shown its hand on the ivory debate.
It will doubtless come as a disappointment to some readers that BAMF’s consultation pitch chose to focus primarily on items of ‘museum quality’ and the merits of a paid-for licensing system rather than the message that no antique ivory is a threat to current elephant populations.
However, if ever there was a need for BAMF to make a strategic play and propose a practical solution, it is on ivory. Many hours of debate and quiet diplomacy have led to this point and no one is better placed that Anthony Browne to outline what might be possible in the face of the noisy court of public opinion.
Read more: BAMF: how exemptions for ivory can work