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 chineseart.co.uk, 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.