Tuesday, 5 March 2019

The Continuing Ivory Saga

The story of ivory ( and other CITES listed materials used in flute making) continues to be confusing.
Even the CITES authorities seem to be unclear about how the legislation applies, and in what circumstances.
I've come across two things that I thought might interest my readers, the first is an account of a couple of cases brought under the CITES legislation in the UK.
See here.
The second might be of practical use for those who choose to get around the CITES legislation by using mammoth ivory...but how do you tell the difference?
See here

Also included below is an exchange of E-Mails with the Irish authorities.
What I gather from this is that they themselves are unsure of what evidence to accept as to whether a particular item is pre-convention or not. In this case they seem to be saying that trade directories, or in this case such things as the Langwill index listings, are not sufficient evidence of pre-convention manufacture.
Where do we go from here? There seems to be no room for easily available expert opinion...

Hi xxxxxxx,
Here’s a thing. As someone who both collects and restores old flutes as well as making new ones, I have several instruments that are either entirely made of ivory or have ivory as a component.
I know that ivory is on Schedule 1 of CITES, but if I understand it correctly the restriction only applies to ivory which was acquired after a certain date, and not to that which can be proven to be antique or of historical importance.
What I wanted to ask is,  what would be the procedure or restrictions applying to an export permit for an item consisting of, or containing ivory that could demonstrably dated to the 18th century?

All the Best
Hammy Hamilton

Hi Colin,
 In response to your query on ivory flutes and flute components – because of the decline in elephant populations ivory trade continues to be a very controversial topic and there is a high level of proof required to prove that the ivory in question is genuine and is antique.
 The CITES Regulations, namely Council Regulation (EC) No 338/97, control commercial activities associated with Annex A specimens within the European Union. Most commercial activities, including the sale and offering for sale of any Annex A specimen are prohibited unless an appropriate CITES Certificate has been issued by the relevant CITES Management Authority exempting the prohibition in question.
The CITES Management Authority may grant such CITES Certificates on a case by case basis in certain situations as described in Article 8(3) of Council Regulation 338/97.
However, under Article 62(3) of Commission Regulation (EC) No 865/2006 there is a general exemption from the need to acquire such a CITES Certificate for “worked specimens” that were acquired before 03 March 1947.

To qualify for this general exemption the specimen in question must comply with the definition of “worked specimen” which states that the specimen must be significantly altered from their natural raw state for jewellery, adornment, art, utility or musical instruments and require no further carving, crafting or manufacture to effect their purpose. Only specimens which have been acquired in such conditions to the satisfaction of the relevant CITES Management Authority shall qualify for such a general exemption. This exemption does not apply to other specimens e.g.: non worked specimens such as full ivory tusks.

This general exemption is often referred to as the “antiques exemption” and only applies for trade within the EU. For trade outside the EU there is no general antiques exemption and thus CITES Export Permits would be required.

However, in order for us to grant an export permit for a piece containing ivory, you would need to prove to our satisfaction that the piece is genuinely pre-convention i.e. 1947. In addition, a piece is no longer considered “antique” if it has been re-worked at some point in time – even if antique ivory is used to repair an instrument. The re-working effectively makes it a modern piece and cannot be considered as antique. The following link gives advice on what can be considered worked or unworked.

If you can prove the origin and provenance of the ivory – then we can issue a permit to export it outside of the EU, however some countries like the U.S. have much stricter customs requirements when it comes to ivory and they have been known to seize pieces on entry into the country. If you were planning on exporting a piece to the U.S. – the customer may have to apply for a CITES import permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as an export permit from the seller.

Kind regards,


Hi xxxxxxxx,
  Thank you for that very comprehensive reply, which clarifies quite a few points about which I was unclear.
On the point of proving to your satisfaction that a flute is genuinely pre-convention, could you elaborate on proof you’d need?
The flutes that I’m concerned about are, in almost all cases stamped with the maker’s name and address, which then allows them to be dated via the trade directories of the period.
Would that be considered sufficent proof?

Could you also clarify the commercial transaction aspect. Does that imply that if money does not change hands, i.e. if the item was a gift, that the legislation would not apply…or does it apply in a different way?

Thanks again and All the Best

Colin Hamilton


With regards to proof if the item is genuinely pre-convention, the trade directory you mention seems to refer to when the item was first traded and not when the CITES listed specimen was acquired. I will consult with my colleague on this matter.

Commercial purposes includes the purchase, offer to purchase, acquisition for commercial purposes, display to the public for commercial purposes, use for commercial gain, sale, keeping for sale, offering for sale, and transport for sale. Please note that the prohibitions relating to Annex A listed specimens also apply to specimens of species listed in Annex B. (Article 8(1) Regulation(EC) No 338/97)

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