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    Tips of the Trade

    An Overview of Current Ivory Law


    Posted: 8.11.14

    Demetre Chiparus Statue, "Starfish"

    Demetre Chiparus created this bronze, marble and ivory statue in the early 20th-century.

    Detail: Ivory Face

    The fine cracks in the figure's ivory face indicate its age.

    Detail: Ivory Hands

    Proper documentation is essential for the import, export and sale of antiques containing ivory.

    Of all the antique objects we appraise on ANTIQUES ROADSHOW, few elicit as big a viewer response as items that contain ivory. Almost all of the emails and letters we receive on the subject address in one way or another the legal questions that inevitably arise around ivory.

    There is an assumption in the general public that ivory is, at least in some circumstances, illegal, since the elephant species from which ivory is taken are endangered or threatened. But unless you regularly deal with ivory as part of your job, this assumption is often little more than a vague suspicion.

    The legal regime that regulates the trade in ivory is notoriously complex

    In fact, even expert ivory appraisers are often hazy on the law. This is through no fault of their own: The legal regime that regulates the trade in ivory is notoriously complex, arising from the intersection of federal statutory law, executive-branch orders, and the guidelines imposed by international conservation treaties. As animal populations fluctuate, so do the laws.

    In an effort to help interested viewers stay informed about the state of ivory regulations, ANTIQUES ROADSHOW has worked with the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service to prepare a digest of the current laws governing possession, sale, transfer, import and export of elephant ivory. We will continue to monitor these regulations in consultation with the USFWS and update this page as new or changing information becomes available.

    [NOTE: What follows is a summary. If you require more precise or complete information, we recommend you contact the Fish and Wildlife Service, or consult with a trusted antiques dealer.]



    It is illegal to import any item containing African-elephant ivory for commercial purposes.

    However, some items containing African-elephant ivory — including musical instruments and items in an inheritance or a household move — may be imported for non-commercial purposes, but ONLY IF:

    1. The item is accompanied by a document from the exporting country attesting that it was acquired before 1976 (by the current or previous owner);
    2. It has not been bought or sold since February 25, 2014.

    Once in the United States, these items cannot subsequently be bought or sold.


    Items consisting of African-elephant ivory that are already in the United States can be sold within the country or exported only if they are accompanied by documentation attesting either that:

    1. The ivory was harvested prior to 1976; OR
    2. It was imported prior to 1976, before relevant CITES regulations had been enacted.



    An item Asian-elephant ivory can be imported, exported, and sold across state lines ONLY IF it meets all of these criteria:

    1. It has not been repaired or modified with ivory or any other part of a federally protected species (as defined by the Endangered Species Act) since 1973;
    2. It is at least 100 years old;
    3. It was EITHER imported prior to 1982; or after 1982 through one of 13 ports specifically designated for antiques; OR the item was manufactured in the United States from legally imported ivory.


    An antique containing Asian-elephant ivory can be sold within a state ONLY IF it is accompanied by documentation from CITES certifying that it was imported prior to 1975.

    The information on this page is current as of July 7, 2014.


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