Read this if you have ivory jewelry or carvings
Sometimes, during an appraisal, a client will bring out ivory chess pieces, jewelry, or carvings that have been handed down. A friend of mine has small carvings her father brought back from WWII; another has an old letter opener.
When I’m asked whether they can sell the piece, the answer, in short, is no. You can enjoy it as part of your personal collection, but federal law restricts its sale. It’s even illegal to ship elephant ivory across state lines.
Endangered Species Act
As part of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1976, commercial trade in African elephant ivory was prohibited in the United States. And, in 2016, the federal ivory ban went into effect. National Geographic wrote:
The new ban restricts interstate sales of ivory items to two narrow categories: antique ivory that’s proven to be more than a century old and items that contain only a little ivory, such as a violin bow with an ivory tip.
As a result, many antique dealers stopped carrying ivory items. (Antiques Roadshow stopped appraising them in 2014).
What does this mean for my ivory collectibles?
- You need documentation showing that the ivory was obtained legally prior to 2/26/76. Acceptable credentials can include a certificate of origin, a datable photo or letter, or other document referring to the item.
- An antique may be sold, but must have complete paperwork and meet rugged regulations.
- You can continue to own ivory in your personal collection, for your own use.
- You can donate or give it away, providing you have the proper documentation.
So…what can I do with my ivory?
it’s legal for you to keep your personal ivory pieces. If you’re planning to pass it down, try to find any documentation that shows age and chain of ownership. You may be able to donate pieces, but again, it may be difficult without the proper documentation. Some museums have stopped accepting ivory unless there’s a clear historical rationale.