Tory blow to antiques trade?

April 27 2015

Image of Tory blow to antiques trade?

Picture: BG (miniature by John Smart at Cincinnati Art Museum)

Ivan Macquisten in The Antiques Trade Gazette reports that the Conservative party has pledged to ban entirely the trade in antique ivory. This is a reversal of their former position, which was (quite rightly) to ban ivory trading but to make a concession for that ivory which is clearly antique, such as in 18th Century portrait miniatures like the one above, by John Smart.

The ATG reports that the latest announcement was made by Conservative campaign headquarters, and not ministers, who have been supportive of the art market. Since it is a daft position, I'm sure it's a mistake. But it might not be. In which case, either buy all the miniatures you want to now, before the international market ends, or, similarly, sell.

Update - a reader writes:

This is utterly absurd. Obviously antique miniatures came into being long before there was a threat to elephant survival and the continued trade in them would have no bearing on this whatsoever. It is a classic case of using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Or do the Conservatives think they can grab votes from the Greens with this daft idea?

Update II - another reader writes:

Thank you for that pointer to the article in the ATG about the conservative position on ivory. Let us hope it is a mistake.

I have just been cataloguing a portrait for a forthcoming auction that has an important gilt artist-designed frame dating from 1868-69. One of its most distinctive and attractive features is a row of four ivory paterae inset diagonally across the corner butt joints. The sale room took the decision to remove the ivory and have it replaced with replica material so that the portrait could be sent for viewing in the US. Had they not done so, they tell me that there was a very real possibility that the frame would have been destroyed at immigration.

Surely - considering the contribution that the art trade makes to the UK economy - the Conservatives should be lobbying for our sensible legislation to be adopted worldwide, rather than removing the exemption on ivory in historic works of art. It seems to me philistine, indeed an act of vandalism, to have to remove the ivory keys from a William Morris piano, for example, so that it can be exported from the UK to an overseas buyer. An international convention could be adopted that would make it quite clear that it has no wish to endanger twenty-first century elephants, but cannot see how banning the antique use of ivory would help them.

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