Understanding the State of the Ivory Market

The current state of the ivory market is very unsettled.   The Federal Agency, US Fish and Wildlife Service, issued a set of regulations in July 2016 related to the restriction of the sale and trade of African Elephant ivory.  There was no mention of Asian elephant ivory or other types of ivory in these regulations.  The specific content of the ‘ban’ was vague and inconsistent, which caused great confusion in the market.  Most auction houses and dealers halted all sales of any type of ivory or any items that contained even small portions of ivory.  Certainly, items made up of all ivory were the primary focus.  Carvings, billiard balls, dominos, figurines, etc. were all part of this banned group.

There are also groups of antiques and collectibles that contain small amounts or portions of ivory that appeared to be regulated as well, but were not clearly defined. An item containing any element of ivory appeared to be in the sites of US Fish and Wildlife.  Pianos (keys), Stringed instruments (nuts, frets, and inlays), handguns (grips), silver hollowware teapots (handle insulators), etc. were all considered targets for seizure and possible prosecution.

There was initially an exception for “old ivory.”  These are items that could be formally documented as being from elephant ivory older than a specified year, and properly documented.

This ‘old ivory’ regulation changed over time to include all African elephant ivory.

State regulations were enacted; most of which conflicted in some way with the federal regulations, leading to more confusion and fear of selling any type of ivory.

At one point, Federal and State agents seized many ivory items from auctions, flea markets, and antique shows creating panic in the market.

Currently, the many continuing changes and interpretations of these Federal and State regulations have severely impacted the entire ivory market including walrus ivory.


“Old Ivory”, Ownership, and Family Holdings

There is wording in some regulations that state that “antique ivory” (over 100
years old) can be sold in an open market, but only if each item has been properly documented, which includes age, origin, its port of entry, and meets the requirements of an acceptable
endangered species.  This documentation is often difficult, if not impossible, to produce.  One however can own ivory and pass it among family members.

Walrus Ivory

According to guidance published by the USFWS: “Raw walrus ivory found on the beach by non-Natives [that is, non-Alaska Natives, as defined by the Marine Mammals Protection Act of 1972] can only be possessed if tagged at a USFWS Office within 30 days of finding. This tagged ivory cannot be transferred to another owner without written USFWS permission.”

Additional Alaska regulations and guidelines are provided in the Members Only documents section the NAC Inner Circle Appraiser Website.  www.InnerCircleAppraiser.com

Alaska has a “Walrus Ivory Dos and Don’ts flyer at: Alaska_Info

Intrastate Commerce

Under federal law, if an item was lawfully imported prior to 1990, or if it was imported with a so-called “CITES pre-convention certificate,” it may be sold within a state, provided such a sale also complies with relevant state and local laws. 


All of these multiple regulations and continuing changes have left the entire ivory market confused, scared, and in flux. There are very few current reliable and legitimate documented sales of ivory.

In order for any auction sale or any private sale to be considered comparable and reliable, the item sold must be able to be sold legally.  This primary consideration is the unanswered question.  Value conclusions of ivory products are highly speculative at this time.

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