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: http://www.fws.gov 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: http://www.fws.gov/international/DIC/species/afe/pdf/Ivory_Fact_Sheet.pdf.
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.