For many years wildlife NGOs have held ‘Ivory Surrender Days’ across the UK with pledges that every single item be destroyed, often being thrown through an industrial shredder or crusher. There is no record of what historical objects have been lost.
As the new law comes into force, criminalising the sale of antiques, I fear this may be presented as the only course of action for owners of unwanted antique ivory so I have set up an alternative – the Antiques Rescue Centre – trying to build an ARC to save all our history.
Its success will depend on how many in our industry are willing to help. Auctioneers and dealers up and down the country are most likely to be a member of the public’s first point of contact when they wish to dispose of inherited collections.
Many owners, I suspect, will not even be aware of the new legislation. When presented with an antique object which it is no longer legal to sell and which the owner no longer wants, we can save it from the bin or the scrap man if gifting it to the Antiques Rescue Centre is now an option.
If auctioneers and dealers can put these items to one side we will collect them (somehow) and begin to list and catalogue them as a nascent national collection online and hopefully in time in a dedicated physical centre.
The aim is that every member of the public should eventually consider first saving not scrapping any antique item which it is no longer legal to sell.
This particularly applies to mixedmedia objects which are more readily threatened by destruction under the new law because of the low de minimis rule of 10%.
As auctioneers and dealers, you may find an owner insists on removing ivory elements of an object (teapot handles, handles of serving pieces, etc) to realise a small bullion value. This is hard but I’d ask everyone to try and persuade the owners not to do this but to donate the item to the ARC instead.
Some will and clearly some won’t and the object will be destroyed. In the latter case I would ask for before and after images of every piece emailed to the address below to be (anonymously) shared with the public. The reason is that the wildlife NGOs and MPs who campaigned so hard for this law saw no downside to it, hoping any destruction would occur privately by owners out of the glare of public scrutiny.
If we can clearly show the direct effect of this law on our cultural heritage we may, slowly, help turn public opinion. This law will never now be repealed but with the facts of what we’re losing and also showing what we are able to save, we may in the future, be able to lobby to increase the level of the de minimis and thereby save hundreds of thousands more objects from destruction.
So what can we do? At this point I’m just one man with a phone so really anything you can do will help.
If you’re an auctioneer please ask and collect antique items owners wish to donate to the ARC.
If you’re a dealer, tell people who own antiques soon to be illegal that this is an option at every opportunity.
If you’re a collector, please inform other members of societies or clubs that objects soon illegal to sell may be gifted to the ARC.
If you run a courier service and want to help with the logistics of collecting objects from across the country, please help.
If you’re a large trade organisation, please help both in publicising the ARC and arranging our own surrender days up and down the country for unwanted ivory antiques, pledging that every item will be saved.
If you’re a specialist, please help in cataloguing the items the ARC is gifted.
If you’re a lawyer, we will need advice in months to come on establishing the ARC as a registered charity.
And if you can do none of the above, then please do the most important job and simply follow the social media account of the Antiques Rescue Centre and get the message out to the wider British public.
We need as much publicity and clout as possible in a world where the number of followers you have often decides your political sway.
The disaster that’s coming, can, if we work together, be largely avoided, but let’s not kid ourselves – it’s going to be a hard slog.
But once these objects are gone they’re gone forever. Almost everyone involved in the world of antiques could make more money doing something else. We do this job because we love the history, the artistry and the beauty. We simply love antiques which is why it has to be us that saves them; nobody else will.
Contact by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Twitter: The Antiques Rescue Centre @antiquesrescue