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14 August 2013

Why did we actually ban exporting Jane Austen’s ring?

Who decides what is of "outstanding national importance"?

By spears magazine

Kelly Clarkson, we assume, was dismayed when the Culture minister placed a temporary export ban on her recently purchased ring belonging to Jane Austen. The final decision is expected in September.  

The purpose of export controls is to ensure that cultural goods which are considered to be of “outstanding national importance” remain in the UK. The export licensing rules, administered by the Arts Council of England, apply to anyone who wants to take a “cultural object” (items such as works of art, furniture, antiques, archaeological artefacts and manuscripts) out of the country temporarily or permanently, regardless of its destination.

And surprising to some private collectors, there are no exemptions for those who make a temporary loan of a particular item or collection to exhibitions being held by overseas museums or galleries.

Whether or not a licence is required will largely depend on the age and value of the cultural object in question and whether it is to be exported within or outside the EU. Generally, a licence will be required if the object is more than 50 years old at the time of export and valued above specified financial thresholds (£180,000 for an oil painting exported within the EU and £130,451 for a painting exported outside the EU). 

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Objects which are potentially of national importance, such as Jane Austen’s ring, will be referred to an expert committee for review. The committee will assess the object in question against the Waverley Criteria (is it so closely connected with our history and national life that its departure would be a misfortune? Is it of outstanding aesthetic importance? Is it of outstanding significance for the study of some particular branch of art, learning or history?).  

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If an object is considered to meet the Waverley Criteria, it will be designated as a national treasure and a decision on the export licence application will be deferred to enable an offer to purchase to be made (at a fair market price) to keep an object in the UK. But is this sense or sensibility?

Export licensing requirements are perhaps an unwelcome administrative burden for the owner who only wishes their treasured collection of art and antiques to grace a home overseas. To ensure that any last minute heartache is avoided, it’s best to be informed (think carefully about the age, origins and the value of your objects) and plan the process accordingly.

And of course, for those with homes around the world who do want to their art and antiques to cross borders, there’s also VAT and Customs Duties to consider when bringing objects into the UK or other EU countries (and similar taxes elsewhere) but let’s leave those anecdotes for another day.

Emily O’Donnell works at private wealth City law firm Maurice Turnor Gardner LLP.

This piece first appeared on Spear’s Magazine.

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