Massachusetts Proposed Ban on Ivory and Rhino Horns S. 440/H. 1275
Posted by: plcombs Dealers Chinese Art – Antiques
A few thoughts on the currently Proposed Ban on Ivory and Rhino Horns here in Massachusetts
An open letter to our legislature on the reality of the trade in Ivory and Rhino horns in New England.
October 20, 2015
Massachusetts Legislature Proposed Ban, A Law Seeking a Problem
To Whom It May Concern:
As a dealer of antiques and more specifically a dealer Chinese and Asian antiques for over 35 years, I am writing to express my opposition to further restrictions regarding the sale of antique elephant ivory and other endangered animal by products. All of which is being apparently done in an effort to curb the vast underground market of illegal trade in new products using these materials throughout Asia. The proposed ban on ivory and rhino horns will be totally ineffective in ending these practices.
I, like the vast majority of people, am deeply opposed to the poaching of elephants and rhinoceros intended for the Asian and more specifically Taiwanese and Chinese markets. However, the legislation being considered does nothing to impact the cultural demand there, which is the sole driver of the problem.
Additional restrictions and prohibitions on the sale of antique products in the United States will not alter the criminal activity of poachers, smugglers and ultimate consumers half way around the world. The demand for antique versus modern examples are each driven by totally separate economies, with each having no bearing on the other for a variety of reasons.
The intense demand in parts of Asia for endangered modern animal products is for the material itself, it is not driven by the demand among collectors of antiques. Asian demand for these goods has been part of their culture since 2,000 BC when herds of Rhinoceros roamed all of China by the hundreds of thousands. During the Shang dynasty (1600 BCE to 1046 BCE) it is believed the first Ivory was carved in China. Since then both have been essential parts of Asian culture.
In the west the interest and demand for carved ivory and rhino horns among antique collectors are focused strictly on old examples. The material in of itself is of little interest to antique buyers, it is simply the medium that was used in various art forms for practical purposes.
To learn about the absolute myths being employed to pass these types of laws read:
Why the Proposed Ban on Ivory and Rhino Horns as well as Scrimshaw Solves Nothing
First, I would like to deal with the argument I’ve seen in the press that the modern copies are too hard to distinguish from the original antiques and that these modern pieces are being traded actively in the US. As a result, there is a perceived need to throw the baby out with the bath water by in effect making illegal the sale of all examples. I can only say this is nonsense for a variety of reasons.
- While some ivory in China is carved and worked to appear antique, they have rarely appeared in the US market. This dearth of modern fakes in the US and the EU is, despite reports to the contrary, because they are easily distinguishable from their antique forbearers and cannot be sold as anything but copies and knockoffs. As a consequence very little has entered the United States in the last 30 years due to a total lack of demand.
- If illegal ivory were a problem today in the USA, in my position as an Asian dealer I would be the among the first to encounter it. While I see good antique and easily datable pieces from the China Trade days often, modern examples are virtually non-existent.
- Additionally, the argument of not being able to discern old from new examples falls short is, the overwhelming majority of Ivory used in the past was incorporated into works by known and well documented schools of art. Often in combination with other materials which are easily dateable by the forms, shapes and styles to which they were ultimately incorporated. They are also often signed by the artist with known dates attributable to the
period in which the objects were made.
- Further, collectors of antique ivory or rhino horn products have no interest in non-antique items being in their collections and never have.
- In over three decades as a dealer devoted almost solely to Asian art and antiques in New England modern products made from elephant ivory have never been a measurable portion of the trade here. Antiques made of, or bearing elephant ivory elements outnumber modern carvings by 1,000 to 1. Perhaps more.
- As a percentage, a tiny amount of poached Ivory enters the USA annually according to the Fish and Wild Life Service, less than 1% of the total poached. (some estimate it as low as .03%)
Second, I’d like to deal with the notion that further restrictions are needed for carvings made from rhinoceros horns. Presumably to curtail the demand and trade in these products here and in Asia. The reality is the illegal trade in rhino horns doesn’t exist outside of China, South Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam.
- Rhino horn demand in Asia today is driven solely for it’s medicinal uses, not for carving. To be used for traditional Chinese medicines, the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1912) Dynasty horns in the market are much too expensive for this purpose and are undesirable due to their age. Antique horns today range in price from $10,000 to $1,000,000 each.
- I’ve not seen one single modern example ever, nor have I ever heard of them being available in the USA or the EU. Further, I’ve not heard of, or seen during my entire career a piece of carved Chinese rhino horn made after the 1930’s. They simply don’t exist as far as I know in the west.
Buyer’s and collectors in the US, Europe and China of Antique rhino horns are not buyers of modern horns being illegally taken today in Africa for medicine in Asian markets.
Historically, whales were never harvested for their teeth or bones for the production of these crafts. They were initially utilized by crew members on whaling ships and while ashore to pass the time who generally paid nothing for them as they were of little economic value. This eventually became a popularly collected art form. Whales were harvested for their blubber, ambergris, spermaceti, tabua, whale oil and baleen. Teeth and bones were by-products of the activity.
- Collectors of these antiques have no interest in buying modern examples, thus they are not drivers economically for illegal activity.
- The making of scrimshaw from whale’s teeth and bone has for the last 40 years been restricted to using old pre-ban teeth, ivory imported prior to the ban, ancient wooly mammoths, walrus ivory, old billiard balls and piano keys as well as synthetic resins.
- The Endangered Species Act, the Mammal Protection Act and the Lacey Act implemented to deal with illegal traffickers has clearly done its job. In the last 20 years only a handful of people in the entire country have been caught participating in the activity. The results are as close to 100% as any law can get.
So the the proposed ban on ivory and rhino horns again does nothing.
The Proposed Ban on Ivory and Rhino Horns, the impact in Massachusetts
While Boston and New England does have a thriving market for antique carved ivory and scrimshaw as standalone art or incorporated into larger mixed material pieces. It does not and has never in my memory had a thriving or even modest market for illegal modern copies among antique collectors or for that matter the general public.
The legislation being proposed is in effect looking to solve a problem that has never existed here and certainly is not currently. Including elephant Ivory, whale’s teeth and absolutely not rhino horns.
The available antique examples utilizing now endangered species products in New England number in the hundreds of thousands, made by skilled craftsmen from around the globe going back hundreds of years. We’ve been at the crossroads of trade here starting in the early 18th C., as a consequence much of it arrived on our shores. This is a great history of which we should be proud.
An excerpt from By Johanna McBrien Editor of "Antiques and Fine Art" posted on "INCOLLECT"
"Dr. Daniel Stiles, one of the leading conservationists and experts on African elephants and the illegal ivory trade, has submitted a comment on the www.regulations.gov website expressing frustration that his research has been misrepresented by both the FWS and by NGOs (determined on a total ivory ban) for misleading the public about illegal ivory in America (www.regulations.gov). He strongly opposes the current legislative efforts. According to Dr. Stiles’ research, the majority of poaching is for speculators in the Asian and African markets, responsible for 20,000 to 30,000 estimated elephant poaching deaths a year; the US market is responsible for a fraction of that amount (estimation is at most ten elephants). Stiles argues, “. . . the law that existed prior to February 2014 [the FWS's Director's Order No. 210] is adequate to address the problem of illegally importing ivory [www.fws.gov]. The proposed changes would have little to no effect on the way the vast majority of illegal ivory enters the U.S. or is traded interstate. . . Denying antiques legal importation will not address the smuggling problem. . . The revised rules are meant to address [a] perceived problem.” He continues, stating that the best way to tackle poaching is to spend the funds addressing the real problem of speculation abroad, and in conservation efforts, not in misguided legislation.
The death of any elephant for purposes of financial gain is abhorrent, but there is a disconnect between current illegal poaching and antique ivory. Ironically, the proposed FWS revisions actually note: “We do not believe the [antiques] trade is contributing to the poaching of elephants and we believe the risk of illegal trade is low.”
The Endangered Species Act and Subsequent Revisions Has Clearly Worked
According to the Fish and Wild Life's own statistics, 99.8% of all the illegal ivory poached in Africa doe not ever enter the Unites States. Dr. Stiles put that number even higher at 99.97%. Either way the problem of poaching is clearly not driven by consumption in the United States and even more clearly a ban, if enacted, in Massachusetts or the entire country for that matter on Antique ivory would not diminish poaching in Africa. Antique dealers are not the problem, nor is the tiny amount of American consumption of non antique Ivory.
The Endangered Species Act has been as successful as any legislation can ever hope to be with a near 100% of it's goals met, going beyond this with the proposed draconian measure will do nothing, but put a lot of people out of work and cause economic losses of hundreds of millions of dollars in Antiques.
The Damage the Proposed Ban on Ivory and Rhino Horns Will Do
The objects under debate are of incalculable value as an essential part of our material culture. They often represent the very best of artistic endeavors in a variety of mediums as art. They are part of the physical manifestations our history and heritage; all made, collected or brought here over the last 300 years.
To in effect make illegal the ownership of historic artistic objects motivated by an impulse to alter the behavior of consumers whose culture and history do not align with ours is a travesty. Changes in the laws here, will be merely a meaningless gesture in the fight to preserve wildlife being effected by society’s half way around the world we do not control or understand. It will however at the same time result in losses to our deep appreciation of art and eventually lessen the understanding of our own history by removing from view the very creations that link one generation to the next.
A Waste of Time
Further restrictions are little more than a meaningless gesture that solves nothing, but is I believe being done to assuage a sense of sadness caused by a brutality and cultural divide we cannot alter from here with a piece of paper.
I do hope that before taking any action in further restricting the possession and sale of these objects our leaders will reflect upon the misguided and erroneous information being relied upon to drive this measure.
Peter L. Combs
If this legislation goes through as written the the proposed ban on ivory and rhino horns in Massachusetts, environmentalists can toddle off to bed with the delusion but feeling secure that they've done their part to change 4,000 years of asian culture. In reality, they have done nothing except cause irreparable harm.
Below is more news on poaching, notice you do not see anything about an actual problem in the US making headlines.
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