On August 5, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed into law legislation that criminalizes “importing, selling, or purchasing any ivory or rhinoceros horn product” in New Jersey. The new law allows no exemption for antique ivory.
The bill’s primary sponsor, Senator Raymond J. Lesniak, said, “There was tremendous thought given to antiques, and the thought was to close that loophole by not allowing any sales and to only allow transfers through inheritance.” According to Lesniak, an exemption for antiques is “used as a ploy to get around the law. In my opinion, ending the cruelty to elephants and other mammals and preserving their existence on earth is much more important than preserving that market.” An exemption for antiques “is easily gotten around by dealers bringing in new ivory and passing it off as ancient,” he said.
Existing objects owned by New Jersey residents “can be donated to a nonprofit, a museum, or they can allow it to pass through their estate,” he said.
New Jersey residents will not be able to buy any ivory under the law. Whether an out-of-state dealer or auction house could sell to a New Jersey resident is unclear. Asked about this scenario, Lesniak responded that he wasn’t sure, but as an attorney he thought they would be able to. “That’s why it’s important for this law to be adopted in other states,” he noted.
The law is a total ban on ivory. Products made wholly of ivory are banned, obviously, and also banned are products that contain ivory or are partially made from any ivory. That would seemingly include pianos with ivory keys, violin bows with ivory, ivory escutcheons on furniture, scrimshaw, netsuke, and more.
For dealers, it means anything with ivory must not be in your shop. The law treats the presence of ivory or rhinoceros horn in a “retail or wholesale outlet commonly used for the buying or selling of similar products” as “presumptive evidence” of possession with intent to sell the product.
Curiously, New Jersey residents may still have their ivory appraised. “The act of obtaining an appraisal of ivory, an ivory product, rhinoceros horn, or a rhinoceros horn product alone does not constitute possession with intent to sell.”
Penalties for violations of the law are as follows: for a first offense, the violator shall be fined not less than $1000 or an amount equal to two times the total value of the ivory, whichever is greater; for a second or subsequent offense, the violator shall be fined not less than $5000 or an amount equal to two times the total value of the ivory, whichever is greater.
“The economic penalties associated with this legislation will have a direct, severe effect on those in illegal possession of ivory,” said Senator Christopher Bateman. “Ivory trafficking is at the highest rate ever recorded. We must work with other states to crack down on organized crime connected with ivory sales.”
Originally published in the September 2014 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2014 Maine Antique Digest