Sotheby’s and Bonhams stop selling rhino horn at auction in Hong Kong after wildlife group pressure

Sotheby’s is the latest auction house to pull the sale of rhinocerous horn artefacts from its auction.

Extracted from Antiques Trade Gazette | Laura Chesters, Noelle McElhatton

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Over the weekend it said it had withdrawn three rhinocerous horn artefacts from an upcoming auction in Hong Kong.

Nicolas Chow, chairman of Sotheby’s Asia, said the auction house will “no longer offer rhino horn artefacts in the future… Sotheby’s deplores any illegal slaughter and trading of endangered wildlife, and strongly supports conservation efforts from the global community.”

Last week Bonhams announced it had stopped the sale of 21 rhinocerous horn carvings that were due to be auctioned on November 27.

Bonhams CEO Matthew Girling said: “All rhinocerous carvings that have been offered at Bonhams have been antiques, with a known provenance and carried a CITES licences… We do, however, recognise there are widely held concerns about this issue and have decided that the sale of the rhinocerous carvings… will now not take place. In future, Bonhams will not offer artefacts made entirely or partly from rhinocerous horn in its salerooms.”

The decisions by the auction houses followed the campaigning by 37 wildlife conservation organisations who wrote to Bonhams demanding it cancel the auction and stop future sales. More than 10,000 people had signed a petition.

Both auction houses said they will no longer sell rhino horn-related objects at any of their salerooms. Christie’s stopped selling rhino-horn related objects six years ago.

CITES convention

The UK, as a CITES convention signatory, does not allow the sale, regardless of age, of uncarved rhino horns including those mounted in silver as inkwells, clocks, etc, or those mounted as big game trophies on or off shields.

The regulations on rhino horn have been subject to a series of changes since 2010, when the UK authorities said all such works of art must be subject to a prior approval process. Each item required a CITES pre-sale authorisation letter from the Animal and Plant Health Agency. However, this is no longer the case as the policy was dropped in 2016.

Objects made of antique rhino horn were cited in recent parliamentary debates on the forthcoming ivory ban.

In October the British Antiques Dealers’ Association (BADA) called on the UK government to introduce tough new regulations on the UK trade in objects containing or made of rhino horn. (ATG 2362)

There are already strict EU rules surrounding the sale and export of rhino horn, but they allow the sale of ‘worked’ items acquired or prepared prior to 1947.

BADA’s proposal would go beyond this, suggesting the trade body sets up a “rigorous” certification scheme ensuring only items of high artistic merit dating from pre-1947 with a value over $100 per gram can be traded.