Antiques Roadshow sends consumers mixed signals with ivory appraisals

Last week, Antiques Roadshow, the popular public television show, announced that it will no longer appraise carved ivory tusks on air. The show’s decision is commendable and IFAW applauds measures like these that diminish the ivory trade.

Antique carved ivory tusks like these will no longer be featured in Antiques Roadshow, a step in the right direction.

Consumers must understand that every piece of ivory comes from a dead elephant; their desire for mere trinkets encourages poachers to kill nearly 35,000 of these majestic animals every year.

Last fall, the U.S. destroyed its sizable ivory stockpile and in February, the White House introduced new rules that make the commercial sale of ivory illegal without proper documentation. Our government is taking serious steps to save elephants from extinction. Now it’s time for private organizations to stop dealing in elephant ivory and other endangered animal parts, and the announcement from PBS is welcome news.

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We’re disappointed to hear, however, that ivory will not completely disappear from the screens in millions of Americans’ homes.

Producers of Antiques Roadshow say that they will continue to feature some ivory items, “such as a historical portrait on ivory or a musical instrument with an ivory inlay” as the show,

“strives to offer context and use the appraisal as an opportunity to educate its viewers not only about the historical and cultural significance of the object, but also about the larger issues at hand.”


While some ivory items are historically notable, we believe that there are other venues (such as museums) better suited to this educational goal. 

The average viewer is unlikely to understand the intricacies of the rules governing ivory sales; appraising any ivory object on air tacitly communicates that the material has monetary value and there is a market for it. Indeed, the fun in watching “Antiques Roadshow” is mostly in the moment when the expert tells us how much an object is worth – any “education” that accompanies an appraisal will be a mere flourish.

“Do as I say, not as I do” messages are inherently confusing to consumers.

We hope Antiques Roadshow will, over time, elect to drop ivory appraisals from its programming entirely. The show is the most public antiquing forum in the United States. It offers viewers a unique way to understand the past, but its participants and its viewers buy and sell in the present. In the case of ivory, we have other ways to learn history, but it’s not too late to save elephants.


TAKE ACTION to end the commercial trade of ivory in the U.S. and stand strong for elephants.

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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
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Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
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