US customs destroys cultural heritage

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by Ursula Kampmann
translated by Annika Backe

February 3, 2016 – On February 25, 2016 the British Antiques Trade Gazette reported on an incident that occurred at US customs. Four British dealers did not sufficiently declare that the objects they intended to present at the Miami Beach Antique Show contained small ivory parts. The customs was attentive. And it made four London-based dealers crush the ivory of the relevant objects with their own hands. 

The dealers concerned are the British companies Paul Bennett, Michael Sedler, The Antique Enamel Company, and John Bull. They form part of the roughly 1,000 dealers from 28 nations who attend the world’s largest indoor antique show and bring their goods to the more than 20,000 visitors. This show is now in its 55th year. 

The mentioned companies are at least as long, or even longer, in the business. Established more than four decades ago, the family-run company Paul Bennett ranges among the leading London dealers in silverware and is specialized in English silver from the late 16th to the 21st century. Founded in 1953, John Bull Antiques & Silver Giftware is now managed in the fourth generation. The sanctions of US customs, therefore, affected companies that are anything but dubious. 

Among the imported antiques of Ken Bull of John Bull Antiques 10 objects with ivory elements were found. The dealer was forced to break an 18th-century ivory ruler and to prise the face and hands from a small figure of a beefeater that had been made by Berthold Müller around 1900. “It was barbaric”, Ken Bull commented on the situation. “We are not talking about elephant tusks or ivory tankards. These are pieces you can hold in your hand.” 

Maurice Dubiner and his son Jonathan from Paul Bennet Antiques had similar experiences. They were made to smash, among other things, the handles of two silver teapots and two coffee pots. Although Maurice Dubiner stated this “had cost them a fortune”, he was nevertheless “very lucky” to not have been faced with further penalties and to have been returned the defaced pieces so that they can be repaired and replaced with plastic elements. 

John Jaffa of The Antique Enamel Company planned to import an enchanting small “singing bird” from 18th-century Switzerland into the US. In it was a feathered bird singing his song. How something like this looks like you may see by looking at another such music box the company concerned offers at its website. Unfortunately, John Jaffa was not able to specify which species the feathers of this work of art were from. And so the custom officials made him virtually pluck the bird by stripping the feathers from it. 

What this action of US customs actually did for the protection of species must remain an open question. 

A disgrace for democracy is the fact that apparently none of these four dealers were given any chance to appeal against the officials’ orders. 

And a remark of Ken Bull leads us to suspect that next year’s Miami Beach Antique Show is going to miss four dealers: “It has upset me tremendously – I feel I don’t want to do any more fairs in America. It leaves a bitter taste.”

Everybody who loves antiques will surely understand this position. 

Please find the original article here.

See for yourself the solidarity of the companies concerned. These are their websites: 

Paul Bennett Antiques

M Sedler

The Antique Enamel Company

John Bull Antiques & Silver Giftware