On 1st January 2019, Leonard Joel’s voluntary policy on the cessation of trade in rhinoceros horn and elephant ivory comes in to full effect and will conclude a 24-month journey of transformation for our decorative arts department and our overall business.
This journey began two years ago when Leonard Joel was identified as the largest auction trader of ivory in Australia. It was a defining moment as we were made aware that we were part of the value-chain that contributes to the slaughter of these animals. We immediately began work on and introduced a voluntary cessation policy under the guidance of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW); a policy that, now implemented, is free for others to adopt.
Before this realisation, we were aware of CITES (the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species) and like every other auctioneer in the country and indeed, globally, we often sought formal approval for both the sale and potential exportation of ivory and horn. We assumed, wrongly, that CITES protected the elephant and rhinoceros species and that our industry, with this compliance, adequately protected these animals from the illegal trade in their tusks and horns. In reality, and as I have learnt over the last two years, current conventions, legislation and industry regulation have almost completely failed in stemming the flood of recently poached ivory and horn from entering the global art and antiques marketplace.
When we introduced the policy, industry reaction was regrettably predictable; we were labelled “blatant opportunists” by one auctioneer and while others were somewhat supportive of our sentiment, to date none have come on board in any meaningful way or embraced our policy.
This is why I applaud Bonhams’ decision last week to cancel their forthcoming auction of antique Rhinoceros horn carvings in Hong Kong following increasing pressure from conservation groups. It was a courageous decision and an important step forward towards a complete ban in the trade of these materials.
Their decision inspired Sotheby’s International to follow suit with the announcement a day later that they too would cease trade in Rhino horn.
The decision now of these two international auction houses to follow the path of Christie’s finally acknowledges at the highest levels of the global auction market the undeniable part we auctioneers play in the value chain and ultimate poaching of these animals, if we are to continue to trade in these materials.
I hope that we will, one day very soon, look back on these recent announcements as defining moments in history; establishing a clear precedent that such materials should not and must not be traded.
The next, equally important step, and one which forms part of our policy, is the international cessation of trade in elephant ivory.