How strict is ivory enforcement?

A client asked me the other day, “how strictly does the US Government enforce the trade in legal and illegal ivory?”

So I told them this little story. They are so strict that even the Juggernaut eBay is scared enough of them not to allow the word “ivory” to appear on their site in certain categories. If an item appears in certain categories on eBay with the word “ivory” in it, it sends out a notice for immediate review, and the listing can be immediately taken down. A few years ago I had a long discussion with eBay customer support about a verified antique Japanese okimono I tried to list because I did not understand why my listing was taken down by them when I had disclosed everything. They did not care that I had made the disclosures and that it was clearly pre-ban, antique ivory. What they cared about was that I had the honesty to use the word “ivory” in my listing!

However, eBay’s fear of the US Government only goes so far! Their hypocrisy is tremendous, because if you don’t use the word “ivory” in your listing, you can still sell your real ivory pieces, regardless of age or animal, on their site with relative impunity. There are constantly a large number of real ivory pieces for sale on eBay if you know which key words to use to search. Also, the sellers are “cleaver enough” to use code words like “ox bone”, “bone, “wood”, or use no descriptive word at all, which has taught them that eBay will ignore their listings and not take them down, despite them being real ivory, let alone post-ban ivory. The sellers way around the inability to use the word “ivory” in their listings is circumvented by the use of specific search words and of very clear images and lighting angles in their listings, which show that they are selling real ivory or superior faux ivory. For example, nearly anyone can easily learn to identify real elephant/mammoth ivory in a good photograph by referencing the Schreger pattern/lines (the natural cross-hatched appearance found in all proboscidean ivory), which these sellers some times explicitly show in their images. Here is an excellent example from a listing on eBay today, January 23, 2013, exhibiting exactly this “allowed” behavior, note the search terms “Ox Bone” associated with clear Schreger lines seen on the face and around the neck of the carved figure, let alone the fact that this is clearly an elephant’s ivory tusk:

I even offered my services to eBay’s legal team, to help purge the real ivory pieces on a daily basis from their site if they wanted to take their “ban” on ivory sales seriously. However, despite being given the eBay legal department’s phone number by the eBay representative, and leaving a message with my contact information and my offer of help, no one ever returned my call! After waiting in vain for a reply, I then called the USFWS and spoke to an officer who is a specialist in endangered species explaining everything noted above. They told me they have been trying to work with eBay for a long time on these issues, but were glad to hear my story and observations, as they had not known of this loop hole.

As a final comment on how seriously USFWS, and in this case the State of New York, takes the illegal trade in ivory, please reference these two New York Times articles that address exactly that. Just this past year, two dealers in NY pleaded guilty to illegal ivory trading charges in NY. The ivory they had in their possession cost an estimated 25 Asian and African Elephants their lives due to poaching! The fines are far too small in my opinion!

Greg C. Brown, MS, ISA, CAGA.                                                                                                              President, Greg C. Brown & Associates, Inc. Appraisal Services.                                                             Minnesota Sub-Chapter Chairman, The Explorers Club.                                                                                     (888) 355-6939.                                                                                                


Some resources for understanding the proper personal property appraisal process.

I will list suggest some resources if you need a legitimate and properly prepared Personal Property Appraisal.

1) Contact me with questions at: or Toll Free at 1-888-355-6939. I am a credentialed member of the International Society of Appraisers (ISA) and have passed the USPAP examination. 2) Ask your appraiser for their “APPRAISAL CV”/Resume, if they have not provided it. If they can not produce one, they are most likely not true professional appraisers, but instead other types of professionals who are self-proclaimed experts, with no training in proper appraisal practices, so be careful. If the personal property appraisal is for insurance, ask your agent what they want. I am always glad to talk to my clients insurance agents to make sure we are on the same page!  If it is for the IRS, they require the appraisals to be USPAP compliant. One of my teachers explained to our class that out of over 4 million people saying they are appraisers in the US, there are only about 1,500 who are trained to be USPAP compliant! Yes, really! So, ask questions, because you get exactly what you pay for in this industry!

3) What are the basics of the appraisal process you should be aware of? a) The appraiser should ask you questions in order to determine what your intended use of the appraisal is, which you will decide together, b) there should  be a formal agreement/contract, c) appraiser inspection of the property to be appraised, ideally this should always be in person, but photographs are allowed for less valuable property and under unusual circumstances. If the property has significant value, the appraiser must examine the property in person, d) research on the identification of the property will be conducted, e) the identification of proper comparables to prove the valuation reasoning, f) writing of the report.

4) Want to know more about the legitimate appraisal profession, go to The Appraisal Foundation website at:

5) if you are not sure, or do not understand any aspect of the process, ask, ask and ask more questions of your prospective appraiser.

The image below is of me at an archaeological site and museum in Chengdu, China.


Cloisonné: Chinese Enamels from the Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties | Asian Art

Cloisonné: Chinese Enamels from the Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties | Asian Art.

What are the rules on Fossilized Ivory?

What are the rules on fossilized ivory? Well, again, I premise this with, to have the most up-to-date information, you need to call the USFWS at 1-800-344-9453 and/or visit their website at:, and also contact the proper department in your State Government.

According to the USFWS, all fossilized ivory, from any animal, is legal to own, buy and sell, national and internationally, except when raw materials and cultural artifacts are taken from public lands, removed from archaeological sites, Native American (Indian) lands, or private lands without permission of the owner, i.e. any item that is acquired legally and under all applicable laws is fair game. There are no known international bans that I am aware of or any known laws that say otherwise, I would be glad to have input from anyone who knows more about this. However, if you are in a foreign country, it would strongly behoove you to check with that government before removing anything, as the pieces can be confiscated from you by US Customs or other US Government officials and repatriated back to the country of origin, and you will not get your money back, as it is your mistake. Also, generally it will not be legal to own, buy or sell pieces that arrive in the US when they violate other Governments export laws, and just because a dealer in China tells you it is legal to transport back to the US, what do you think their main motivation and knowledge base is anyway? The US Government will always blame the error on you, regardless of how much you plead your case by telling you that ignorance is not an excuse!

Here is a document from the Government of Alaska that addresses exactly this issue back in 1994: The key to this document is the conclusion, which states,

“In summary, applicable federal and state law provides that fossilized ivory may not be excavated, removed, sold, or exchanged, where it is found in an archaeological context, or under circumstances otherwise demonstrating that the material has significance to the cultural or natural history of the state, or to the cultural history of an identifiable Alaska native group. While fossilized ivory may be removed and sold with permission of the federal or state agency with management authority, or with the permission   or the private landowner, an item made from fossilized ivory may not be falsely marketed as a Native handicraft, either by Alaska natives or non-Natives, regardless of its origin.”

Now, that being said, you must also understand that the average customs official and law enforcement officer is not an expert and has only minimal training with ivory, and so they generally will not know the difference between fossilized, contemporary or antique ivory, regardless of what they say, which is trouble for the possessor of the ivory item. Ivory identification is a highly specialized area of knowledge. The best thing you can do is to make sure it is well documented as being a legally obtained fossilized specimen – the main point, provenance, provenance, provenance. Your documentation is your trump card to legitimacy with the US and State Governments. If you are not sure, then ask a true expert for assistance.

I truly hope this set of blogs is helping you to understand and untangle the mess surrounding ivory ownership, and it’s trade.

Greg C. Brown, MS, ISA, CAGA.                                                                                                                                                                                    President, Greg C. Brown & Associates, Inc. Appraisal Services.                                                                                                                           Minnesota Sub-Chapter Chairman, The Explorers Club.

Can you own, buy and sell elephant ivory in the US?

Can you own, buy and sell elephant ivory in the United States?

I preface all of what I say from here on within this blog on ivory with this statement, I am not the legal authorities, so to make sure you know the most current laws on these issues, you must contact the United States Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS) for the up to date information at 1-800-344-9453 and/or visit their website at: and the proper department within your State Government. Laws on ivory are confusing and hard to answer. The short answer  to the question, can you own, buy and sell elephant ivory is “yes and no”, it depends on a number of variables and even the state you are in. So, to be as clear as possible I will quote directly from a USFWS fact sheet found at:

According to the USFWS, there is currently a moratorium under CITIES, and thus by default by the USFWS and the (U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA), on all raw African and Asian Elephant Ivory. It is illegal to import and export raw elephant ivory in the U.S., except for properly permitted African elephant hunting trophies. As the Asian elephant is a highly endangered species, in the words of the USFWS, “all commercial trade in Asian elephants and their parts and products is prohibited.” Further more, the USFWS states,

“In general, export of raw African and Asian elephant ivory from the United States is prohibited. Import of raw African elephant ivory, with the exception of sport-hunted trophies, has been banned since the 1989 moratorium. African elephant ivory can be legally owned or bought and sold within the United States providing it meets ESA requirements and State laws. Worked African elephant ivory acquired before its 1978 ESA listing or antique ivory (over 100 years old) may be imported or exported for noncommercial purposes or, in limited situations, for commercial purposes with a certification from the Service. To date, no commercial import of nonantique African elephant ivory has been permitted under the AECA.

“African elephant ivory within the United States that was imported prior to the 1989 ban, imported as sport hunted trophies, or obtained as the result of Federal law enforcement action is considered legal.

“Asian elephant ivory that was purchased prior to its 1976 ESA listing may be sold to others residing in your State, if allowed by your State’s natural resource management agency. However, the sale or commercial transfer of Asian elephant ivory across state lines is regulated and must meet specific requirements of the ESA.”

The key point here is that you must have the proper provenance and documentation for your pieces if you are going to practice any kind of trade in or transport of them. Basically provenance is the documented history of a piece from its origin to your current ownership. Without it, you may not be able to prove age, country of origin, date of importation, etc, which can make you legal susceptible to your piece being confiscated. You can not rely on family stories for this proof, as that is not provenance. Provenance is critical to the appraisal process and achieving the highest appraised values. The lesson, keep all of your family notes, previous appraisal reports, receipts, photographs, etc. with the items, no matter how rough or poorly preserved.

Tomorrow we will address fossilized ivory.

Greg C. Brown, MS, ISA, CAGA.                                                                                                                                                                                    President, Greg C. Brown & Associates, Inc. Appraisal Services.                                                                                                                           Minnesota Sub-Chapter Chairman, The Explorers Club.

Appraisals and the basics of CITES and it’s oversight of Ivory.

Some coaching on CITES and what it’s purposes is.

CITES is a legally binding, voluntary accord, between 176 Party Nations, for the conservation of approximately 30,000 species of wildlife (fauna) and wild plants (flora), in order to ensure their survival. It covers the legal and illegal trade in both living pants and animals, as well as their “products”, which include such things as ivory for carving, pelts for worship and clothing, spleens and bones for medicine and “ego” boosting. Unfortunately, many of these Party countries who are to enforce these rules on the importation, exportation and exploitation of fauna and flora, are also the worst offenders.

If you have never truly considered the incredible number of elephants, rhinos, leopards, tigers, birds of prey, etc. being poached, just look at a few of the images here, burning ivory, and I think you will truly be affected by the real size of the problem and the truth of the impending extinction of these animals, due to a proper lack of enforcement and to their “allowed” illegal trade.

The image immediately below is exactly why severe enforcement of poaching must be increased and large caches of confiscated poached ivory must not be sold, but burned! Something I find very hard to say, but believe is right. This issue is directly addressed in this New York Times article dated August 25, 2009, where this image is from, found at:


The image below shows what a number of countries do, in this case Kenya, with their confiscated poached ivory caches to protest the killing of their precious wildlife heritage for ivory, rhino horns and hides. I hate to see it burned, as I think it is a slap in the face of each animal’s life and beauty that was poached. However, for the better good of each species, this is the only and best practice, because if there are no new ivory pieces to carve, then demand for them will eventually dry up. This image is from the Animal Connection blog, found at:


Greg C. Brown, MS, ISA, CAGA.                                                                                                                                                                                    President, Greg C. Brown & Associates, Inc. Appraisal Services.                                                                                                                           Minnesota Sub-Chapter Chairman, The Explorers Club.

Ivory, it’s rules and CITIES.

I was talking to a client the other day about a zebra hide that he has and he asked if I know if it was legal for him to own and/or sell. I told him I was not sure off the top of my head, but believed, of the three speceis of zebra and seven subspecies, that only the Grevy’s Zebra was endangered, the others ranging from “Least Concern to Vulnerable” and that to be sure we know the rules correctly, I should check with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services (USFWS). I let him know we can do an identification of the pelt to try to properly identify the animal. I started to talk to him about the issues surrounding the art ivory trade, most of it out of Asia today. As a credentialed and USPAP compliant appraiser, I get these types of questions all the time about appraising, valuing, and if things are legal to possess/sell or not. I have people ask for appraisals and consultations on Asian, African and Inuit / Inupiat – Yupik – Aleut Ivory frequently.

The issues surrounding ivory sales, importation, collecting, etcetera are indeed confusing. I am going to try to make it a bit more clear over the next few days in a couple of paragraph chunks. If anyone finds that I have made a misstatement, please feel free to explain and if you can cite the proper reference.

It is my opinion that most angles of this argument are legitimate, except the illegal trade, and poaching of ivory bearing animals and a recent decision to sell off about 108 tons of confiscated poached ivory. Each side’s proponents of this argument surrounding ivory and how it should be treated get heated about their positions and frequently become selfish and thoughtless, as each sides passion to make their opinion known end up ruling their emotions, and cooler heads do not prevail through understanding and compromise with each other.

Please understand, my comments will be based in two sets of rules, those of the United States of American and those of CITES established by the international community under the World Conservation Union. So, if my statements do not agree with those of your country, please feel free to add to mine, but do not reprimand me for not knowing your rules properly, I do not claim to know the information of each country around the world. This blog on the rules of ivory is to enlighten people to some degree, and I would love input from people in other countries to enhance this information for everyone.

The first bit of coaching has to do with, what does CITES stand for? This means Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fuana and Flora. Secondly, when was CITES created? Quoting from the CITIES website found at:,

“CITES was drafted as a result of a resolution adopted in 1963 at a meeting of members of IUCN (The World Conservation Union). The text of the Convention was finally agreed at a meeting of representatives of 80 countries in Washington DC., United States of America, on 3 March 1973, and on 1 July 1975 CITES entered in force. The original of the Convention was deposited with the Depositary Government in the Chinese, English, FrenchRussian and Spanish languages, each version being equally authentic.

Tomorrow I will try in two paragraphs or so, to coach you through the basics of the CITES convention and what it is about, with an emphasis on ivory.

Greg C. Brown, MS, ISA, CAGA.                                                                                                                                                President,  Greg C. Brown & Associates, Inc.                                                                                                                            Minnesota Sub-Chapter Chairman, The Explorers Club.