Ivory Bill

Written evidence submitted by Martin P. Levy (IVB13)

1: Authority to comment:

I was a member of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art (1997-2007), serve on the Spoliation Advisory Panel (2000-present), and am Chairman of the Decorative Arts Society. I was elected a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1998. I have followed the international debate on the trade in ivory closely, particularly since the introduction of President Obama’s Director’s Order 210 (2014), and have contributed many articles and comments on the subject. Members are referred to my article ‘Works of Art and Ivory: what are the issues?’ Curator: the Museum Journal, published online, 26 January 2018: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/cura.12220

This evidence is submitted in a personal capacity.

2: Summary:

I support the aims of the Ivory Bill: to eradicate the heinous poaching of the endangered elephant, fuelled by demand for trinkets, notably in Asia, but also elsewhere. No evidence has been presented to establish that the market for historic, bona fide works of art contributes to the illicit trade. I believe that the question of protecting the elephant is not binary: endangered species can and must be protected, but so can and must be the circulation and consequent study of our shared cultural inheritance.

I have three specific concerns about the Bill, to which I shall refer below (section 6):

(i) The 1918 dateline (as opposed to pre-1947)

(ii) The level of de minimis

(iii) The categories of objects qualifying for exemption

3: The DEFRA Consultation ‘Banning UK sales of ivory’:

The Consultation, announced 6 October 2017, specified:

The consultation proposes four categories of exemptions:

· musical instruments;

· items containing only a small proportion of ivory, a de minimis exemption;

· items of significant [described in the Bill as ‘outstanding’] historic, artistic or cultural value;

· and sales to and between museums

The Government will work with conservationists, the arts and antiques sectors and other interested parties through the consultation period on exactly how these exemptions can be defined, implemented and enforced so as to ensure there is no room for loopholes which continue to fuel the poaching of elephants.

The results of the Consultation were published in April 2018.


4: The questions now are:

4:1 Will the Bill succeed in achieving the Government’s universally welcomed aim of stamping out poaching?

4:2 Are the exemptions, welcome as they are, properly balanced between closing the remotest opportunities to find loopholes, and the protection of, and market for, works of art representing our universal cultural heritage?

During the Second Reading, it was clear that the House wished to support the Bill. At the same time, many Members expressed views about the importance of workable ‘Exemptions’ (as outlined in the Bill); some wanting them broadened, while others were concerned that they were not tight enough.

5: Observations:

5:1 The Bill was underpinned by the overwhelming public support for a ‘total ban’. However, my personal view is that while we all wish to protect the African elephant, the exclusion of bona fide works of art made of, or containing ivory will have no impact on this laudable aim. This is a view held both by the museum world and those involved in the market: collectors and dealers/auctioneers.

5:2 While public support for the ban appeared overwhelming, based on the Consultation, public abhorrence is less evident away from the febrile atmosphere of the current debate. Over the past number of years, I have:

… made a point of observing the public looking at ivory in museums across the West: including, in the States, from San Francisco to New York, and in Europe, in Amsterdam, Florence, London, Munich, Paris, Stockholm, the Vatican and Vienna. Individuals and families have been engaged, with no one turning away in disgust. As Holly Trusted at the Victoria and Albert Museum has reported: since the issue of ivory gained traction three years ago, the museum has received just one solitary complaint (out of over three million visitors annually) about its exceptional display of works incorporating, or manufactured from, ivory.

Curator (January 2018)

5:3 I do not believe that the trade in bona fide works of art contributes to the illicit trade. The markets are utterly different (see Curator).

5:4 I do not accept the oft-repeated claim that ‘experts cannot tell the difference between old and new ivory’. See Martin Levy, ‘Forum: Is the US ivory ban counter-productive?’ Apollo, June 2014: https://www.apollo-magazine.com/forum-us-ivory-ban-counter-productive/ (published online, 9 June 2014).

5:5 I emphasise to the Committee that the ivory trinkets and tourist objects, often cited by NGOs and others, have no place on the market today, and should absolutely be removed from circulation.

5:6 It is essential that when the Bill is passed, the trade in bona fide works of art is watertight. There must be no room for manoeuvre, and if there is a vestige of concern in the minds of those charged with issuing certificates, there must be no benefit of doubt.

5:7 Much of the debate around works of art and ivory, certainly from outside the art world, implies an obsession with the material per se. This is not the case. A museum or private collector of, say, Baroque works of art will pursue examples in many media in vogue at the time of their creation: wood, silver, amber, lapis, ivory, pietre dure, bronze, glass and so on.

5:8 Key to the successful implementation of the Bill’s aims will be the establishment of a panel of experts able to administer certification in a timely and authoritative manner. This will come at a cost, and the market must be prepared to pay accordingly to have works of art given a passport.

5:9 It was suggested in the House, at the Second Reading, that an annual list of ‘passports’ be published. I would support this. It would help demonstrate the range and significance of qualifying works, which should give the wider public confidence of why works of art remain in circulation, and that the system is working.

6: What are the problems with the Bill?

6:1 The 1918 dateline, as opposed to 1947. There is no logical argument for this. Indeed, it is internally inconsistent with other parts of the Bill that maintain the CITES 1947 date – for example for de minimis. I have argued this point extensively and consistently over the past four years. Again, members are respectfully referred to the article in Curator.

6:2 I note the 20% level of de minimis for musical instruments, but doubt that the level should be lower for works of art. Indeed, such a low level would, for example, risk excluding from sale much inlaid, veneered and solid furniture and objects made in Vizagapatam and elsewhere, a category now seen in museums across the UK. And while understanding that the Government wishes to present a tough stance, it should be noted that CITES permits for commercial movement of worked ivory are not governed by considerations of de minimis.

6:3 Definition of what should qualify for exemptions. This is the key issue to be addressed. Set out below are some examples of works of art that, I believe, deserve to be exempt on art historical grounds, but might or will risk falling foul of the new legislation. This list is merely indicative and does not cover all categories. However, it suggests that much detailed work needs to be undertaken in writing the Regulations and Guidance. Continuing consultation between museums, the Department and collectors and dealers/auctioneers will surely be beneficial It is important that a considered position is reached on the range of works of art made of or containing ivory that might be considered allowable.

7: Examples of ivory that should qualify for exemption:

7:1 Carved busts and cameos by David Le Marchand. David le Marchand 1674-1726 ‘An Ingenious Man for Carving in Ivory’ (1996) was a scholarly exhibition that toured the UK, showing the work of ‘an expert ivory carver who executed some of the most impressive cameo portraits ever carved in ivory’. It is surely reasonable to assume that any work by Le Marchand would be exempt.

7:2 Work by Richard Garbe (1876-1957).  By chance, Woolley & Wallis, Arts & Crafts (20 June 2018), includes a group of material from the Estate of the much-admired silversmith H.G. Murphy. Lots 327 (dated 1920) and 328 (dated 1935) are ivories by Richard Garbe, with the provenance: H.G Murphy (1884-1939); and thence by descent to the present owner.  Such works would have hitherto been considered ‘pre-eminent’ for Acceptance in Lieu.  Such works should be exempt.

7:3 Modest works of art, such as a late seventeenth-/early eighteenth-century Flemish figure representing Charity. This might have been acquired in good faith in recent years, or be a family heirloom handed down through generations. A work representative of its period, but not so important that it would likely end up in a museum. A younger person, needing to raise funds towards some future essential need, should be free to make a decision to sell.

7:4 The Julius and Arlette Katchen Collection of Fine Netsuke, Bonhams (London), 10 May 2017. The formation or disposal of such a collection risks being impossible in the future. Not only does this impede scholarship, but it also precludes future gifts to public institutions.

7:5 Ivory theatre tokens. Although clearly not important works of art, such early nineteenth-century ephemeral object are a small but significant aspect of our material culture.

7:6 Vizagapatam furniture. Much of this work, widely represented in museum collections across the world, contains more than 10% ivory. Such examples of material culture and world heritage can, with simple certification, remain safely in circulation.

Martin P. Levy, FSA

H. Blairman & Sons, London

June 2018


Prepared 14th June 2018