British Museum defends acquisition of Chinese ivories

The Financial Times, June 27, 2018

"The head of the British Museum has defended the acquisition of an “extraordinary” collection of more than 500 historic Chinese ivories, as public attitudes to the modern-day trade in ivory harden.

The collection of ivory figurines of deities and immortals, sewing boxes, brush pots and other “exquisite” objects mainly from the 17th to 19th centuries was amassed by the Shanghai trader Sir Victor Sassoon in the early 20th century. It has been in England since the 1950s and, following Sassoon’s death in 1961, was looked after by a trust that last year donated it — along with an endowment for its upkeep — to the museum.

Speaking at the museum’s annual review, Hartwig Fischer, British Museum director, said the museum “unreservedly endorsed” the public campaign to ban the ivory trade but added that historical works of high cultural value needed to be preserved and made available for public display and scholarly study. “These ivories [made] in the last centuries or millennia . . . do not save any elephants’ lives today. The British Museum is the right place to share them worldwide today,” he said, adding that proposed acquisitions were “minutely scrutinised” by staff before deciding whether to accept them."

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