The Ivory Trade: History & Appraising
Ivory Trade History
In the world of appraising, buying, and selling collectibles, there will be times when ivory becomes a factor. Whether someone brings it in for an appraisial, looking to sell, or what have you, ivory exists and to some, it is still considered a treasure. The ivory trade is the commercial, snd illegal trade in the ivory tusks of various mammals such as the hippopotamus, walrus, narwhal, and mammoth. The most common mammal to have been affected greatly by this trade, is the African and Asian elephants.
Ivory has been traded for hundreds of years by people in Africa and Asia, resulting in restrictions and bans. Ivory was formerly used to make piano keys and other decorative items because of the white color after processing, however, the piano industry abandoned ivory as a key covering material in the 1980s in favor of other materials such as plastic. Also, synthetic ivory has been developed which can also be used as an alternative material for making piano keys. Ivory was also used in the creation of billiard balls and other items expressing power, and 'exotic' wealth if you wish.
Elephant ivory has been exported from Africa and Asia for millennia with records going back to the 14th century B.C.E. Transport of the heavy commodity was always difficult, and with the establishment of the early-modern slave trades from East and West Africa, newly captured slaves were used to carry the heavy tusks to the ports where both the tusks and their carriers were sold.
At the peak of the ivory trade, pre-20th century, during the colonization of Africa, around 800 to 1,000 tonnes of ivory was sent to Europe alone. World wars and the subsequent economic depressions caused a lull in this luxury commodity, but increased prosperity in the early 1970s saw a resurgence. Japan, relieved from its exchange restrictions imposed after world war II started to buy up raw (unworked) ivory. This started to put pressure on the forest elephants of Africa and Asia, both of which were used to supply the hard ivory preferred by the Japanese for the production of hankos, or name seals. Prior to this period, most name seals had been made from wood with an ivory tip, carved with the signature, but increased prosperity saw the formerly unseen solid ivory hankos in mass production. Softer ivory from East Africa and southern Africa was traded for souvenirs, jewelry and trinkets.
By the 1970s, Japan consumed about 40% of the global trade; another 40% was consumed by Europe and North America, often worked in Hong Kong, which was the largest trade hub, with most of the rest remaining in Africa. China, yet to become the economic force of today, consumed small amounts of ivory to keep its skilled carvers in business.
Each year, at least 20,000 African elephants are illegally killed for their tusks. A decade-long resurgence in demand for elephant ivory, particularly in parts of Asia, has fueled this rampant poaching epidemic. The elephant ivory trade not only threatens the very survival of this iconic species and causes broader ecological consequences, but also endangers the lives and livelihoods of local people and undermines national and regional security.
Promisingly, a historic opportunity emerged to stop the African elephant poaching crisis: governments inititated concerted action to address this wildlife crime. The United States implemented a near-total ban on elephant ivory trade in 2016, and the United Kingdom, Singapore, Hong Kong, and other elephant ivory markets followed suit. Most significantly, China took the remarkable step of closing its legal domestic ivory market at the end of 2017. Other Asian countries with open elephant ivory trade are under substantial pressure to take action.
There is an entirely separate and legal trade of walrus ivory, which is culturally and economically important to Indigenous communities in the Arctic. The sustainable use and sale of walrus ivory by Alaska Native peoples has not had the same negative impacts caused by the illegal trade of elephant ivory.
The Appraisal Business and Ivory
Over the years, ivory has been used in everything from Russian and English miniatures to Chinese carvings. What was once a thing of beauty is now a thing that reflects concern for the world’s endangered species. Appraising is also based on spreading knowledge and offering those an informative approach to items they might have. We offer you these guidelines on the ivory you have in your collection and the ivory you may want to purchase as a collectible.
The first thing you need to know is that fine art and antiques with ivory that are already in the United States can be sold domestically and exported only if there is documentation that verifies the ivory was harvested prior to 1976 or it was imported before 1976. That is when CITES (Convention in International Trade in Endangered Species) went into effect.
That mandate makes it illegal to import any item containing African-elephant ivory for commercial purposes. There are, however, a few items with ivory in them you are allowed to have if they were inherited or part of a household move. This applies to musical instruments as well. To qualify, they can be imported for non-commercial purposes if:
- The item is accompanied by a document from the exporting country attesting that it was acquired before 1976 (by the current or previous owner);
- It has not been bought or sold since February 25, 2014. Once in the United States, these items cannot subsequently be bought or sold.
- Antiques containing Asian-elephan ivory can b sold within a state only if acompanied by CITES documents saying it was imported prior to 1975.
- You can sell across state lines only if the object has not been repaired or modified with ivory or any other part of a federally protected species (as defined by the Endangered Species Act) since 1973. It also has to pass the 100-year old test. It had to be imported prior to 1982. If it was imported after 1982, it must be proven that it came through one of 13 ports specifically designated for antiques. The other possibility is that you must prove the item was manufactured in the United States from legally imported ivory.
5. Finally, an antique embelished with Asian-elephant ivory can be sold only within states only if it is accompanied by documentation from CITES certifying that it was imported prior to 1975.
Miniature Portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte on Ivory - $10,000 Appraisal Value
This hand-painted oil portrait on ivory depicts Napoleon Bonaparte at a very young age. The portrait is based on a specific work of art called ‘Bonaparte at the Arcole Bridge’, painted in 1796 by Antoine-Jean Gros and is located in Palace of the Versailles. The specific portrait was displayed in one of the most notable biographical books of Napoleon Bonaparte. As you can see in the photographs, the artwork is in excellent condition.
The high-quality materials used in this collectible artwork are put to good use, as the details of the piece reveal that the artist is highly skilled. The portrait is encased in an oval casting, surrounded by a gold-like decorative design. The back of the piece has an authentic ‘garanti sur ivoire’ seal, confirming the use of the rare material. The back also has an old paper-like backing, from a book written in latin.
The above item comes with a FREE Certified Insurance Appraisal valued at $10,000.00
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