Historical cabinet worth $150k seized at border over small ivory decorations (New Zealand)


Rosie Gordon, News Hub

Date Published
Small amounts of ivory on a historical cabinet are causing big problems for an antique collector.

The item’s been seized at the border after being shipped here from the UK.

And the hold-up’s also prompting calls for change.

A rare, historic cabinet thought to be worth $150,000 is now on New Zealand soil. But photos are all that can be seen of it.

Art historian William Cottrell says the cabinet, made in 1862 and decorated with elephant ivory, is a historically-significant piece.

“It makes no sense that an artwork of this calibre is just arrested,” he says.

Owner Patrick Soanes says the Department of Conservation (DoC) stopped it at the border because UK authorities didn’t stamp the permit he needed to bring in the ivory – and they won’t stamp it retrospectively.

“It’s incredibly stressful and I can’t do anything to try and resolve the situation,” he tells Newshub.

Soanes bought the cabinet for tens of thousands of dollars but he fears his investment may be for nothing.

“All DoC want to do is destroy the item,” he says.

In a statement, DoC says destruction’s not the only option. Instead, the cabinet could be put into a museum or the ivory could be removed altogether.

Cottrell, who repairs antique furniture, is against that too.

“It’s like getting any artwork and chopping it around because you can. It makes no sense. It’s vandalism at best,” he says.

The pair wrote to the Conservation Minister who says she is seeking urgent advice on the options for the cabinet under the Trade in Endangered Species Act and the paperwork issues, like this one, are part of what prompted a review of the Act last year.

The cabinet’s detainment’s prompting calls for it to be made easier to move antiques containing ivory around the world.

“A precedent has to be set with this cabinet,” Cottrell says.

Hopes that just by getting home in one piece, this antique cabinet could make more history yet.