This is an interesting news story about the problems occurring with the illegal trade in animal parts, focused on ivory and rhino horn in this case: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-21652437
Here is another interesting article on the art market from the New York times. There are things to be aware of if you plan to enter into this high-end part of the art market, such as the ghost bidding. I have been given both good and bad comments about why this is legitimate or not from prominent auction house owners and employees here in the US, who I am not going to name for confidentiality sake. However, I think the key here is to be aware that this happens before you go in bidding, as it may change your bidding structure, and it will minimally protect you and inform you of the bidding process.
Enjoy the read and learn, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/28/arts/design/as-art-market-rise-so-do-questions-of-oversight.html?pagewanted=all.
Sincerely, Greg C. Brown, MS, ISA, CAGA. firstname.lastname@example.org
So many people think they should start investing in high-end art and antique, and they are right. But, most are not willing to drop their egos to ask experts for help. It is really important to do so at the beginning of your entrance into the art and antiques investment collecting world, as the up front costs for asking us for advice will save you a lot of pain and money in the long run, yes really! That is not only a sale pitch for us, but it is the truth. If you do not believe it, go out and start buying some art and antiques for investment on your own, and see what happens. Then, feel free to come back to us and ask for help, we have all been through it, and will empathize with you, but with the caveat that we told you to just ask for help from the beginning. Let us help and train you to head off on your own. Once that relationship is established, you will be able to head out on your own, and call us for help less often into the future. However, we will both be better off for the relationship in the end.
Here is an interesting read about some of the top art collectors in the world and a follow-up article about how to start into it (the photo below is from this article) found on the Business Insider website at: http://www.businessinsider.com/most-powerful-art-collectors-2011-12?op=1.
The first thing is, to educate yourself about the area or areas you want to collect in, and not just read one book, but do it in-depth, become a scholar. Otherwise, expect to get burned if you do it alone and with limited education about what you are interested in. It is when a “collector” gets lazy or when they find that they think they know enough that they will get caught by a shyster. Ego gets in the way much more than you think it does, “because I have studied enough already!” There is really never “enough”, because the fakers and fraudsters are aways trying to stay one step ahead of the art historians and especially the uneducated public. The one thing that you must be exceptionally careful about and understand is that this industry has more conmen/conwomen in it than there are honest people! I hate to say it, but it is true, and you must get it – so only work with people who have stellar reputations and/or have been recommended to you by people you truly know and trust. Be careful every time you buy!
At the beginning you really should use a consultant to work with OTHER than the dealer themselves – dealers have a distinct interest – their own, no matter how friendly and helpful they are. Here is a small example of this, I had a friend refer his father-in-law to me because he wanted to start collecting art and had thought he found a little gold mine in a shop north of the Twin Cities. My friend convinced him to consult with me, and he did. Of the 6 “Fine Art Prints”, 2 x Picasso, 2 x Chagall and 2 x Warhol, all moderate sized, 3 were fake and he did not want to spend the money on the Warhols to have them authenticated appropriately, to which I told him I would have to err on the side of them being forgeries based on the fact that I had two Warhol experts both say they thought they were fakes! Only 1 Picasso was real! I saved him over $14,000.00 USD because he knew enough to know he needed help because he was new to collecting! A good consultant will be happy to teach you and help you head off on your own way. This in turn will allow you to create trust in them so that in the future, if you are not sure, you will always have them to contact and work with again – for which they will be very happy to have the repeat business and trust. Good luck.
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: http://www.ebay.com/itm/Huge-Solid-Ox-Bone-Raw-Tusk-L-K-Statue-Head-Sculpture-Bust-Okimono-Netsuke-/121056013400?pt=Asian_Antiques&hash=item1c2f802c58.
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. email@example.com
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:http://www.fws.gov, 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: http://www.law.state.ak.us/pdf/opinions/opinions_1994/94-004_661940484.pdf. 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 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.