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Caveat Emptor

Posted Apr 19, 2013
Written by Fran Zeman
Category General

Collectors of ivory and scrimshaw have to be aware of regulations that limit the marketability for these collections and can affect the value of what you own. The Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species (C.I.T.E.S) is a 1973 treaty specifically addressing endangered species. Strict guidelines have been published and there are laws governing the sale of ivory (and other organic materials) from these sources. While there is no prohibition for owning, buying and selling, and transporting objects made from African ivory within most of the United States, its import and export is prohibited by law, as it is in most foreign nations. California has banned the sale of ivory, period. Objects made from Asian ivory are completely outlawed, although “pre-ban” ivory is still traded within the United States.
Scrimshaw collectors note that objects made from Sperm Whale teeth are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and there is no import or export permitted. Scrimshaw made from this material can be sold within the United States as long as it is not prohibited by state law; the “100 year rule” must also be taken into consideration. An Australian couple with a scrimshaw collection and sailor-made whimsies was retiring back to Australia. They were heartbroken when they realized that it was best to sell the collection before moving – it would have been troublesome or even impossible to ship them abroad. Also imagine buying some ivory objects abroad only to have them confiscated by US Customs when you get back to the United States!
So then why can you go online and find ivory objects for sale? Ebay took a stand and said they were going to ban the sale of ivory by 2009, but when the site was last checked there were still objects for sale. Seller listings are from countries where there isn’t a ban, or items are listed as being faux ivory. Be really careful as you plan to buy ivory carvings or sell what you own; don’t get caught in intrigue. 
Do your due diligence. If you are comfortable with and own objects made of ivory, appreciate them for the quality of carving and their beauty. Understand that times change and caveat emptor.  
For more in depth information check with: www.cites.org, www.cpb.gov (US Customs)