Ivory in the Royal Collection – to destroy or not?

By Incbald School,Design Education,November 7, 2018

By Jacqueline Duncan OBE, Dean & Founder.

We have been hearing a great deal recently about the Royal Family and indeed why not. The Queen is wonderful, the Prince of Wales deserves all his birthday adulation for seventy years of thoughtful service and the younger members are happy, hardworking and glamorous. Recently Princess Catherine looked enchanting in the Cambridge tiara and it is comforting to think that whichever way Brexit goes, the Windsors are definitely Remaining.

Just one thing gives me pause for further thought.

Prince William is rightly passionate about the threat to the African elephants. His abhorrence of the terrible depredations caused on these animals by the world demand for ivory leads him to indicate an intention to destroy any ivory objects presently in the Royal Collection. Such destruction would, in my view, be a tragedy. I do not know the age of the oldest pieces of ivory belonging to the Queen, but the Collection must hold some of the most beautiful ivory artefacts ever produced by generations of brilliant carvers and craftsmen. The destruction of these pieces would negate the artistry, the skills and the talent that has gone into their production and I doubt I am alone in thinking that any such decision would be very wrong in a world where skill is giving way to technology.

Long ago I remarked to Courtenay Ilbert, the horologist and collector, that I really did not like Chinese art. “When you are older you will understand it better” he answered. It was a gentle rebuke, but it was a rebuke. I have always remembered it, and I do indeed understand the sophistication of the ancient Chinese very much better now than I did when I was young.

Let us hope that the destruction of elephant herds can be controlled and that Prince William will view these inclusions in the Royal Collection as examples of creative and artistically valuable achievements.