Are UK owners of ivory in panic mode?

There are no statistics available so this might just be a guess on our part . . . but it does seem to us, at, that there is an awful lot of Chinese worked ivory coming onto the market in the last few months. Indeed, there seems to be a plethora of beautifully worked pieces around at the moment. Are owners disposing of their collections in fear of the present Conservative government fulfilling its rash and ill thought out election pledge to ban the sale of ivory?

The many recent Asian and Chinese auctions have featured a considerable amount of ivory – certainly, rather more than usual. Some auctioneers, however, are abjuring ivory and not accepting it for sale at all. Chiswick Auctions went down that road after their prosecution and £3,200 fine in 2014 for selling a piece of worked ivory which turned out to date from the 1960s. In a recent Antiques Trade Gazette article on Asian Art in London, Lyon & Turnbull’s Lee Young went on record as stating his company would only accept some of the very best pieces and was drawing away from the area.

Effectively, if auctioneers stop selling historic ivory pieces they will simply pave the way for government legislation allowing the politicians to say, “Well, the market has decided not to sell the stuff so all we are doing is formalising it.”

Although there is a welcome academic initiative from the School of Law at Portsmouth University, which has just embarked on a year-long study of the possible outcome of a ban, it may well not have a direct impact on law making apart from spurring more unwelcome attention..

Our position here has always been that we think the existing CITES regulations are perfectly adequate as a basis for dealing in historic, worked ivory; and that any ban on trading such items would be unfair in the extreme on reputable dealers, collectors and those who have unwittingly inherited items of beauty and history which happen to be made of a material now ruthlessly condemned by the politically correct. As much as we deplore the killing of endangered elephants for modern use of ivory, it is not possible to turn back the clock. Historic pieces of worked ivory, many of them exquisitely accomplished centuries ago are a part of our heritage and should remain so. Any ban will, of course, drive the market underground, closing down availability and pushing up prices. So maybe now is actually the time to invest . . .

Illustrated below is one very fine piece which will be exposed for sale in Hannam’s next auction on December 11.

hannams lot 612

hannams lot 612 detailhannams lot 612 detail end

Lot 612 A Canton carved ivory tusk. Most probably 19th century, if not earlier, and particularly well carved.


Chiswick are planning a tea party . . .

On 3 November Chiswick Auctions will be holding a special curated sale at 2pm, “THE ART OF TEA”, following on from their usual “ASIAN ART” sale.

The sale explores tea drinking culture of the Far East as well as tea drinking in art, with examples from China, Japan, Tibet and Vietnam.

The sale includes teapots, tea cups, tea caddies, kettles, trays, artworks and paintings in a wide range of material including porcelain, lacquer, jade, agate, silver, canton enamel, cloisonné enamel, iron, bronze, tin, pewter, rosewood, burl walnut and bamboo.

Dedicated sections of the sale have been allocated to Cadogan teapots, export ware, caddies, Song ware, Tetsubin kettles, clobbered ware, yixing ware, trays, silver, Tibetan teaware and tea-themed works of art.

200 years of the Cadogan Teapot:

Cadogan teapots, popularised in the West by Lord Cadogan (1675 – 1726) to whom they owe their name, have for centuries delighted the Western market for their puzzling property of being filled through the base. Although produced primarily for the export market since the early Qing (lots 261-263), they were circulated domestically, including across the Sino-Korean peninsula (lot 260), from before the late Ming. Some have argued that these vessels were designed as waterpots due to the challenge of cleaning their interior and lot 260 provides evidence for this case. Nevertheless, their position within tea history in the West is clearly evident.

The Art of the Tray

The tray, like other aspects of tea-drinking paraphernalia is an art-form borne of necessity. Ranging from the saucer (lot 355), an individual support for a single cup, to objects capable of supporting a whole tea service (lot 358), the tray offers a unique combination of three dimensional form and two dimensional surface. This surface, usually framed within a decorated rim, can be carved (lots 350 and 352), painted (354), inlaid with mother of pearl (351), silver (358), brass and copper (353), or even left blank to draw attention to the natural qualities of the material (356 and 357).


Lot 350

Lot 350 – A CHINESE CINNABAR LACQUER BIRD AND FLOWER TRAY. Late Ming, early 17th Century. Of square form with canted corners, shallow everted sides supported on a broad foot and slightly recessed base, the interior carved and incised through layers of rich cinnabar lacquer with a pair of birds among peonies above a gnarled rock, the sky incised with floral diapers which continue over the sides at the centre of which is a peony flower head, 35 x 35cm. 庆宜堂制 明代 红漆花鸟盘 Literature: For a closely related table screen see Dragon and Phoenix: Chinese Lacquer Ware: the Lee Family Collection, Tokyo, 1990, cat no 72. Estimate: £5,000-£7,000

Lot 351 – A CHINESE MOTHER OF PEARL INLAID LACQUER TRAY. Ming Dynasty, 16th Century. Of rectangular form with everted rim supported on a short foot, the interior decorated in mother-of-pearl with six boys at 明代 珍珠母镶嵌黑漆托盘play under pine and flowering prunus branches, within a border of bird and flower panels against a diaper ground, 28.5 x 48cm. Estimate: £1,000-£2,000


Lot 351



Asian art auctions crowd the calendar in November

gavel 1 Auction fever in November

For the Asian art buyer next month promises to be a taxing, wallet emptying experience . . . It is the busiest month ever for Asian art auctions. Starting November 3 with London’s Chiswick Auctions, the next 28 days of the month of November will see no fewer  than 20 major auctions of Asian art.

The sales range in size from Sotheby’s November 11 sale of Classical Chinese Furniture from a European Private Collection with just 28 lots of fine-looking huanghuali furniture, to Woolley & Wallis’s usual two day extravaganza on November 17 and 18. They range in location from Bonhams Edinburgh rooms to Dukes in Dorchester and Peter Francis in Carmarthen.

The plethora of sales raises problems of logistics for the avid follower of Chinese auction offerings. Even if you only peruse catalogues on line, you have to set aside at least a couple of days. As for attending all the sales, that is a practical impossibility given the distances involved and the fact that many sales compete with each other on the same day!

Things calm down, thankfully, at the end of the month, although you may care to take in, if you have the energy and the bank balance left, the Lyon & Turnbull auction at Crosshall Manor, St Neots, Cambridgeshire. L&T are again abandoning their elegant Edinburgh saleroom for a small barn in order to be within relatively easy reach of the London market and Heathrow airport.

The auction mania is effectively driven by other surrounding events. The prestigious Olympia Winter Art & Antiques Fair has a strong Chinese and Asian showing this year and starts with its private view on November 2. Asian Art in London starts on November 5 and runs on until the 14th. Both events bring thousands of Asian buyers to London.


      Lyon & Turnbull . . . at Crosshall Manor again     Photo Paul Harris

Listings for all the auctions can be found on our Auctions Nationwide page which is accessible from the slider bar on the Home Page of

Will these be the most expensive milk bottles in the world?

A pair of extremely rare porcelain milk bottles, dating back to the Chinese Communist era of Mao Tse Tung, are being offered by Chiswick Auctions in their upcoming Asian Art sale on September 1 2015.

Milk bottles lr

Thickly potted, with a swelling body, a thick neck and slightly flaring mouth, and covered overall with a thick creamy white glaze, with stencilled lettering in underglaze cobalt blue reading “Beijing City Milk Company, Chao Niu Yoghurt”. The bottles, which measure 11cm high, date to the 1960s when China was under the rule of Chairman Mao Tse Tung.

“So-called ‘Communist era’ material is experiencing a revival with contemporary designers plastering Communist slogans over everything from T-shirts to kitchen towels,” Chiswick’s Asian Art specialist, Lazarus Halstead explains, “But what makes this pair special is that, despite its utilitarian form, it is an exclusive and elite object from the heart of Communist China which tells a unique story.”

The pieces come from the collection of a diplomatic family. The present owner acquired the milk bottles as a child living with diplomatic parents in Beijing in the 1960s. At the time milk was strictly rationed available only to a select few foreign diplomats and government officials from the highest ranks of the Communist party. The bottles, property of the State, would never normally have been kept and their survival is the result purely of a young child’s whim.

The pieces will be offered with a very cautious estimate of £100 – £200. If you manage to get them for that, you might well be the cat that gets the cream . . .

Goats of the year at Chiswick Auctions?


An unusual picture is scheduled to come up at Chiswick Auctions on May 5 in their second specialist Asian art sale. It is being titled Welcoming Spring and depicts a figure riding a goat and surrounded by a further 81 goats. It is, of course, the year of the goat but that does not help in explaining what it is all about . . .

The number 81 is possibly significant. We recently saw a picture featuring 81 gods but they were depicted in traditional human form. The number 81 is auspicious . . .

This week’s sale boasts 300 lots and the goat picture is estimated at a reasonable £3,000-5,000.

Cloisonne incense burner goes for £30,000 at Chiswick

Chiswick Auctions appears to be well pleased with the results of their first specialist Asian Sale which took place earlier this week. The total was around £125,000.

The star of the auction was lot 73, a cloisonné enamel tripod incense burner. Attributed to the Ming Dynasty, this piece was the star lot of the sale selling for £30,000 hammer.


The exceptional price, well above the £6,000 – 8,000 estimate, showed that the market accepted the piece as early 15th century in date, created under the reign of the Xuande emperor. This reflects recent research led by the Cloisonné exhibition at the Bard Graduate Centre, New York in 2011, and curators at the Palace Museum in Beijing have recently re-evaluated the dating of Chinese cloisonné.

It also comes in the context of increasing attention being paid to the correct dating of bronzes of the Xuande period, following the sale of the Ulrich Hausmann collection at Sotheby’s in October 2014 and work by Lu Pengliang (of the Bard Centre) published in Arts of Asia in November 2014. It is worth noting, however, that even “Xuande” bronzes of a later period with apocryphal marks can command a good price.

A 19th Century tripod incense burner with apocryphal Xuande mark (lot 207) took a respectable £800 hammer in the same sale.

Chiswick Auctions launch Asian sales programme

London auctioneers Chiswick Auctions have just announced that they will hold four specialist Asian auctions every year and are forming an Asian department within the firm. Previously, Asian items have been included in more general art and antiques auctions. Their first sale will be on February 10 2015 and will include the unusual incense burner bronze study of a monkey riding a deer, which we illustrate below. It is reckoned to be Qianlong and is complete with cover.


Heading up the new Asian department is Lazarus Halstead who has a strong academic background, having studied Chinese art at Oxford and he is also fluent in Mandarin.

Chiswick have already enjoyed some successes with Chinese pieces: recently a Ming bronze Bodisattva sold for £116,000, including premium and a Qianlong blue and white bottle vase achieved £75,000.

It can be expected that the Asian sales will not include any ivory pieces: the company was recently fined for offering a post-1947 ivory worked elephant train and has stated that it will no longer expose any ivory pieces for sale.

Chiswick Auctions drop ivory sales after court case

China-Ivory-destru_2782691b ed

The trade magazine Antiques Trade Gazette reports in its current issue that Chiswick Auctions are to stop selling ivory pieces. The auction house was prosecuted October 13 for selling a lot catalogued as ‘an antique carved ivory tusk worked as a train of elephants.’ Under CITES regulations it is illegal to sell items containing ivory which date from after an arbitrary cut-off date of 1947.

Chiswick had previously sold the piece to a Portobello Road trader from whom it was seized in a police raid. The police sent the item away for testing (at a reputed cost in excess of £2,000) and a laboratory test indicated that it came from an elephant deceased in the mid-1960s. Chiswick chose to plead guilty and were fined £4,500 (the maximum fine being £5,000) which was reduced to a still very hefty £3,200 after taking into consideration the guilty plea.

Now Chiswick’s managing director has apparently told ATG that his auction house “will lead the way” with a self-imposed ban on all ivory sales except where ivory constitutes less than 5% of the object concerned.

opinion hl

The View from Here This most unfortunate case, which we have written on before, raises many disturbing issues, viz.

it seems unfortunate to us that Chiswick Auctions failed to defend the action. Clearly, a mistake was made and, giving them the benefit of the doubt, the Lot either slipped through in the normal chaos of daily life in an auction room, or, possibly, the employee who allowed it to go on sale genuinely thought it was a piece pre-1947.

Frankly, it is extremely difficult very often to tell between a piece from 1947 and one from 1964-66. As such, the law as it stands is unworkable. We are doubtful about the laboratory testing and extending the logic to the extreme implied by the law, can the laboratory tell between a piece made in December 1946 and one originating in January 1947. To put it bluntly, in this case, as the old adage goes, the law is an ass.

The fine imposed was at the uppermost level allowed by the Act controlling trade in endangered species. This was a first offence, the consideration involved was, in monetary terms, very modest, and there was no evidence to the fact that this had been a deliberate course of action perpetrated by the accused. The evidence appears to suggest it was a genuine mistake that was made and a fine of a few hundred pounds would seem to us to be nearer the mark.

Having received such a punitive fine, in our view, instead of meekly caving in, the auction house would have been best advised to lodge an appeal against the sentence. To respond by claiming to lead the way on banning ivory sales seems disingenuous and rather unfortunate. These proceedings will inevitably pass into both case law and folklore and will further serve the cause of driving the trade in genuine and unique historic artefacts underground. The witch hunt is set to continue . . .

Ivory witch hunt about to take off at Ealing Magistrates’ Court

opinion hl

On Monday of next week, London auctioneer Chiswick Auctions goes to court charged under the criminal law of this land. What have they done?

No, they have not breached specious health and safety regulations, been party to murder or manslaughter, or part of some dreadful conspiracy to defraud the public in operating a so-called ring. They haven’t even got unpaid parking tickets, so far as I know.

No, they are alleged to have sold an ivory tusk worked as a train of elephants. And, horror of horrors, it is alleged it was from an elephant that died in 1960, or thereabouts, after the extraordinary CITES deadline of 1948. Apparently, the disputed object has been, most expensively for the public purse, tested and found to be ten or twelve years younger than the designated age required by a piece of faulty legislation. Frankly, I am even dubious about the test but best say no more about that at this stage . . .

I recently drank several  exceedingly good pints of beer whilst debating with dealers in antiques (and ivory) at length as to how one might determine between a piece of worked ivory from an animal killed in December 1948 and one killed in January 1949. It might sound a ridiculous discussion but the legislation on the statute book requires dealers and experts to reach such a precise determination. Of course, nobody can, and the legislation is unworkable except for in the present environment when rationale has gone out of the window and, even the Royal Family has taken highly worked and important historical pieces taken off display.

The extinction of species like elephant and rhinoceros is utterly deplorable, that is agreed by all thinking people, but the destruction of historically significant works of careful craftsmanship, made long ago, will not go one inch towards saving animals hunted by determined modern day poachers in Africa, or elsewhere. It would be far more constructive to ban and confiscate all easily identifiable large bore weaponry that has to be used to bring down large animals like the rhino and the elephant.

As a responsible journalist, and a member of The National Union of Journalists, I shall not debate the facts or circumstances of this particular case (we may do here afterwards). The case is, under British law, sub judice. Suffice to say, here at, we sniff the strong smell of a witch hunt. And, certainly, if the case goes against Chiswick next week, we shall likely see the complete removal of ivory from auctions all over the country.

You don’t have to be the sharpest knife in the drawer to understand what the effect of that will be. Ivory pieces will cease to be traded ‘over the counter’ neither at auction, nor even on the Portobello Road where this piece was sourced by PC Plod for the magnificent sum of £100 (presumably, it came out of Metropolitan Police expenses). Beautifully worked ivory will become a black market and will likely retreat onto the dark areas of the Internet only known to the criminal fraternity. And, of course, the price will rocket . . .

PC Plod would be better advised, in our view, to hang around London airport in the interests of public safety to catch ISIS terrorists, rather than pieces of carefully worked ivory to be found in shops and street markets and which apparently don’t quite make an arbitrary 1948 cut-off date.