Home 5 News 5 ‘Tinkering on the Ivories’

‘Tinkering on the Ivories’

May 10, 2022
Antique Ivory Statue

It has involved many years of discussion, media hype, argument, and trade consultation, and now it is important that clients, auction houses, and dealers make themselves aware of the new Ivory regulations.

From the 6th June 2022 it will be an offence in the United Kingdom to sell or deal in Ivory. The consultation run by DEFRA over several months allowed some flexibility for the art and antiques market, however the new rules are to be regulated very strictly and auction rooms, dealers, collectors, and individuals need to take care to ensure the law is not broken.

The penalties for dealing in Ivory are eye watering, with a maximum fine of £250,000 or up to 5 years in jail. We also expect authorities to be looking for test cases and examples to highlight in the media.

It will be illegal to sell any object containing elephant ivory (from the animal’s tusks). Also consider that some marine ivory, such as Narwhal Tusks are already controlled by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species).  The rules for these and other endangered species are not covered in this article.

There are a small number of exceptions that allow certain Ivory artworks and objects to still be traded. However, to be exempt they will need to register the sale with a new online service run by DEFRA.

Browns can assess and make such applications on your behalf.

The Standard Exemptions are for:
  • Musical instruments made before 1975 with less that 20% ivory by volume.
  • Items made before 3 March 1947 with less than 10% ivory by volume

This might include for example silver teapots with ivory heat dividers on the handle or ivory inlaid furniture.

  • Portrait miniatures made before 1918 with a surface area smaller than 320 square centimetres

 Many important and quality miniatures are painted on thin panels of ivory.

  • Items that a qualifying museum intends to buy or hire
Special Exemptions:

There is a further exemption for a pre-1918 item that is of outstandingly high artistic, cultural or historical value.

This requires a more complex application and is judged by a panel made up of experts from assorted UK museums and institutions, including The National Museum of Scotland.

This final exemption is for those exceptionally rare and extraordinary objects that would be considered of cultural or historic importance. It is hard to know at this early stage how this will be judged and many objects that might be considered as important may fail the tests. An appeal system is in place to assist with occasional disagreements.


The fee to apply for a standard exemption with DEFRA will be £20 per item, or £50 for a group of objects if sold to the same buyer (20 maximum)

The ‘Cultural/Historic Object’ exemption is subject to a £250 fee per item.

Browns reserve the right to charge a processing fee, agreed in advance.

Any export requirement will still need to be obtained separately and vary from country to country.

Finally, it is important to note that EVERY sale of an individual object with require registration on each occasion it is offered for sale. It is not clear yet how that might affect re-offers of unsold lots. Such issues will hopefully become a little easier to follow once the new regulations are up and running.

Browns will update this article and the new regulations ‘bed in’ over the coming months.  If you have items of ivory you are looking to see, please feel free to get in touch to discuss with one of our team.

01835 863445 | info@brownsasr.co.uk

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