Charging ahead: the rising prices of rhino horn antiques
With rhino horns on sale in Belgium, we look at a rising and controversial area of collectibles
This Monday, a sale of Ancient Paintings, Ancient Furniture, Works of Art, Silverware, Jewels and other collectibles will take place in Belgium, courtesy of auction house Rops.
Comprising 900 lots, the sale will include an impressive array of minor paintings, carved wooden ornaments, chairs, tables and the decorative arts.
Perhaps the most notable lot, however, is a pair of black rhinoceros horns - one 950g and the other 430g. Together they are expected to sell for €6,000-8,000.
In recent times, pieces made from rhino horn have become increasingly popular, valuable ...and controversial. The numbers of rhinos worldwide is dwindling, and in countries such as the UK efforts are made to enforce rules which treat trade in a similar way to ivory: confirmed antiques are acceptable, but nothing 'new' (in the British case, created after 1947 - and raw rhino horn can't usually be sold at all).
Part of the reason that rhino horn is increasingly popular is the increasing power of Chinese collectors, as there is a traditional Chinese belief that the horn has special properties. The horn can be ground down to make homeopathic remedies.
Recently arguments over the sale of 'antique' rhino horn pieces has been increasing in intensity in the UK as the frequency of sale of pieces such as rhino horn libation cups (one of which was sold at George Kidner of Lymington for £58,750) increases. (For other examples see links below.)
Some traders have claimed that the frequency increase is due to a returning fashion - that the antiques are simply coming out of the back of owners' cupboards - and in any case that the demand for horn in treatments (which creates an insatiable demand) would not financially justify grinding down rhino horn cups for that reason.
In other words, buyers would not be content to turn a blind eye to an 'antique' which has actually been created recently from fresh rhino horn, and auctioneers therefore remain under the usual pressure to ensure that an antique carving is just that.
Of course, a market in collectibles made from a substance may rise without the worth being based directly on the value of that substance. The value of rare gold coins tends to rise with the value of gold, even though anyone melting them down is always likely to make loss.
Nevertheless the sheer frequency of trading in rhino horn antiques suggests that a number are not genuine.
Therefore, for a collector or investor looking to buy antiques of this kind (which could well prove lucrative) but wishing to stay away from controversy and legal troubles the course is clear: buy pieces with cast iron provenance from traders that can be trusted.
- Learn how you can get pleasure and profit from unique collectibles
- Click here for all the latest Unique items news
Join our readers in 193 countries around the world - sign up for your free weekly Collectibles Newsletter today
Recent and related articles...
· American War of Independence powder horn sounds at $16,450 | 30 June 2010
Private Benjamin Steadman's carved horn is what remains of his prolific military career...
· Chinese 'liberation' Rhino horn charges into California auction | 14 June 2010
Valued at $50,000-70,000, this piece of Asian heritage will make a big impact at IM Chait
· Japanese armour sells for £120,000 at Bonhams | 12 May 2010
The best examples of ivory carvings, early porcelain and armour all attracted strong bids in London
· Chinese treasures bring more great results for Asian art | 29 March 2010
An 18-19th century ivory and carnelian-mounted ruyi sceptre starred at Freeman's auction
· All-Asian collection for sale in Dallas | 2 March 2010
Demand for Asian art, furniture and pottery has prompted Dallas Auction Gallery's special sale