Antique Ivory Sales Banned in California , Consignments Seized: Thanks to IIS member Godfrey Harris for bringing this to our attention.
California recently began to strictly enforce a much-amended state law, and it has already caused dealers and auctioneers much grief. On Sunday, February 5, a dealer couple in their 60's set up at an outdoor flea market. A visitor to their booth picked up an item and asked, "What's this made of?" "It's ivory," the man answered.
Wrong answer. The customer flashed his badge and identified himself as an agent with the California Department of Fish and Game. He then proceeded to seize all eight of the pieces in the booth that contained ivory. He cited the couple for committing a misdemeanor and gave them a court appearance date of April 12. The man estimated his loss at between $1500 and $2000. He told M.A.D. that another dealer had lost upward of $10,000 worth of material.
That couple's loss is but a fraction compared to what the owners of Slawinski Auction Company suffered. The Scotts Valley, California, firm was raided on February 18 by agents enforcing the new law. When the agents left, they took all the ivory lots with them—ivory worth approximately $150,000.
DeStories wrote: "The State of California Department of Fish and Game is ACTIVELY raiding auction houses and antique shows, confiscating ivory. It is now illegal to sell or have the intent to sell ANY IVORY within the State of California or to sell it to any bidders within the State of California REGARDLESS OF THE AGE of the ivory. The fine is a minimum of $1000 per violation and a maximum up to $5000 per violation."
DeStories's message continued: "Two days ago during an auction preview approximately 25 uniformed and armed State of California Department of Fish and Game officers stormed into my brother's auction preview. They confiscated approximately 40 lots of antique ivory that was scheduled to be auctioned yesterday on February 19."
"This was a screw-up that didn't have to happen," he said. "We checked with Fish and Wildlife well before the auction. We have always worked with the idea that ivory has to be genuinely antique in order to sell it; I mean older than one hundred years. I've been very careful about that. We even refused a couple of pieces for that sale because we couldn't prove they were that old."
Slawinski went on to say that he had called the Department of Fish and Game and spoken to a woman there. "I explained I had an auction coming up in a few days and needed to know if there was something going on. We had heard there might be changes relating to ivory. I said I was selling antique ivory and needed to know if I was doing everything I needed to, legally, and was told they'd get back to me. She called me back a couple of hours later and said she wasn't able to talk to anybody.
"The night they showed up, they covered the parking lot. We had probably twenty armed agents here. There was no reason for that level of intimidation. They were uniformed and armed to the teeth. I have some young girls working here, and those kids were just shaking.
"I tried to work with them. About midway through the evening I told the chief, 'Look, this whole thing could have been resolved if you'd just had somebody in the office to give me the information I needed.' "I pulled out my iPhone and showed him and said, 'What's your number?' Then I scrolled down and went to Friday and 10:41, and said, 'Here's when I called you.' He took the phone out of my hand and said, 'That's my number, and you were on the phone for five minutes.' "I said, 'Somebody in your office answered the phone and told me no one was available,' and he said, 'No, that's not true. I was in the office all day.' He said he knew some calls came in, but 'she didn't say anything to me, and her desk is twenty feet from my desk.'
"This is impacting far more than my business," Bob Slawinski said. "One of my consignors brought me a collection that had been in the family for years and years with things going back to 1800. They needed to raise money for medical bills.
Then California Department of Fish and Game law enforcement spokesman Patrick Foy heard about the raid, he laughed. "I doubt we're able to get twenty-five 'uniformed and armed' officers together in this state at any one time," he said. "That's a little over the top." "It is illegal to sell any ivory or other material from any animal on the endangered species list in California ," he pointed out. "It's legal to possess it, but you cannot sell it. Possession with intent to sell is illegal. It's a misdemeanor level crime."
The portion of the law identifying the species covered lists more than just elephants, though. Whales, dolphins, porpoises, and polar bears are also included. Here's the first full paragraph of the relevant criminal code:
California Penal Code Section 653o:
(a) It is unlawful to import into this state for commercial purposes, to possess with intent to sell, or to sell within the state, the dead body, or any part or product thereof, of any polar bear, leopard, ocelot, tiger, cheetah, jaguar, sable antelope, wolf (Canis lupus), zebra, whale, cobra, python, sea turtle, colobus monkey, kangaroo, vicuna, sea otter, free-roaming feral horse, dolphin or porpoise (Delphinidae), Spanish lynx, or elephant.
Crocodiles, alligators, and seals are covered in subsequent paragraphs.
The next section, Penal Code Section 653p, repeats some of 653o, makes possession illegal, and identifies the root source of the law:
It is unlawful to possess with the intent to sell, or to sell, within the state, the dead body, or any part or product thereof, of any species or subspecies of any fish, bird,