Elephant ivory


If you’re thinking of offering elephant ivory to the Royal Albert Memorial Museum


Please do NOT: send RAMM ivory, or items containing ivory, in the post or drop off items at the museum reception. They will not be accepted. RAMM is not a depository for unwanted ivory.


If you would like to offer ivory to the museum please DO speak to a curator first.


New legislation in brief


From April 2018, the UK government has proposed a complete ban on selling or trading elephant/mammoth ivory. It covers ivory items of all ages. The penalty for breaching the ban will be an unlimited fine or up to five years in jail. It is not clear how soon this law will be passed.


There will be exemptions for items of exceptional cultural value over 100 years of age, items containing a very low percentage of ivory and for sales between accredited museums.


At present, the proposed ban only covers elephant ivory. It is likely that the sale of ivory from other animals such as hippos and narwhals will also become illegal.


RAMM’s collecting policy reflects the proposed legislation.


RAMM’s collecting policy


Ivory is present across RAMM’s collection. The museum will consider acquiring items provided they meet certain conditions:


  • The item is older than 1947
  • The items show Exeter/Devon’s historic links to the wider world (e.g. the maker/donor lived in Exeter)
  • Items of known provenance (collector / maker, date and collection/production location)


It will remain legal to donate ivory to museums. RAMM will only consider purchasing items of exceptional cultural significance. They must meet the exemption criteria of the forthcoming legislation, and will need a sale licence.


RAMM will consider:


  • Uncarved ivory tusks or teeth with a known collector, date and location (town or district)
  • Carved or worked ivory from Africa, Asia and the Pacific produced before 1900. Some of these items may even be worked mammoth ivory.
  • Fine art items such as portrait miniatures painted on a thin layer of ivory
  • Decorative art items such as musical instruments inlaid with ivory


RAMM will not accept


  • Items made post-1947, especially items from Africa and Asia produced for western markets (we already have examples of this kind)
  • Unprovenanced material (without date, collector or production/collection location)


The need for new legislation


In response to the consultation set by DEFRA, on the 3 April 2018, the British government confirmed a UK ban on the commercial sale of ivory. Illegal ivory trade is estimated to be worth up to £17 billion a year.


Michael Gove (Environment secretary) introduced the ban to protect elephants for future generations. It will cover ivory items of all ages. It is one of the toughest bans in the world and ensures that modern ivory will no longer carry a high commercial value. The penalty for breaching the ban will be an unlimited fine or up to five years in jail.


The number of wild elephants has declined in the last decade. Each year around 20,000 (approximately 55 a day) elephants are slaughtered to meet the demands of the global market.


Exemptions to the ban (such as those mentioned above) are carefully targeted to items that do not contribute to poaching. A specialist in a British institution, (e.g. a skilled museum curator) must assess items before an exemption permit is issued.


Sources and further information


UK Government https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/ivory-bill-2018

Museums Association https://www.museumsassociation.org/policy/statements-and-responses

Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-confirms-uk-ban-on-ivory-sales