Elephant tusks found in Borders fetch a record £380,000
THE third largest set of elephant tusks in the world lay undiscovered in a Borders cellar for almost 30 years.
Last week, the massive pair, each weighing around 190lbs and standing nearly nine feet high, were sold at auction in London for a record 380,000.
And that, according to auctioneer Nick Holt, is a "remarkable price for a remarkable find".
"We are still in shock at the amount of interest these incredible items generated and the price was way over our estimate of between 100,000 and 150,000."
The jumbo tusks, mounted on plinths, enjoyed celebrity status in the run-up to the sale, attracting hundreds of visitors to exhibitions at the famous gun showrooms of Purdey and Holland & Holland.
Apart from their prodigious size – each has a circumference of 25 inches – the tusks are almost symmetrical and uncleaned, adding to their value as trophies.
Like humans, elephants are left or right-handed, so invariably one tusk, the one that does all the work, is shorter that the other.
Mr Holt said the fact the tusks were almost the same size suggests the elephant was a patriarchal figure who, because of his size and strength, was pampered by the rest of the herd.
It was only when Holt's, who specialise in the sale of modern and antique guns, published their catalogue that the Borders connection was revealed.
"The tusks were found in the cellar of an old piano-manufacturing business in the Borders and had been bought many years previously for the manufacture of piano keys," according to the provenance.
Potential buyers also learned the tusks had been rated the third largest in the world by the Rowland Ward Records of Big Game.
That publication records that the biggest pair (each 225lbs) are owned by the Queen and on permanent display at the Victoria and Albert Museum, while the second largest are privately-owned and part of the famous Powell-Cotton collection in Kent.
So how did the huge tusks find their way to the Borders?
Anxious to protect the identity of both vendor and buyer, Mr Holt said they were discovered by a client after he bought the old piano business and the tusks were still in the Borders five years ago. Also in the cellar were 12 much lesser pairs of tusks, acquired presumably to be crafted into piano keys.
"I have been able to piece together some of the story," said Mr Holt.
"The elephant was shot in 1970 in Tanzania by a local ivory hunter who was himself shot. The tusks were seized by the Tanzanian government and, the following year, they were sent to a Safari Club International meeting in Budapest where they were checked and recorded by leading authority Rowland Ward. One can only assume they were sold for cash and eventually found their way to the Borders, but I honestly don't know to where exactly."
And that remains a mystery.
Malcolm Beattie, of Aeolian Pianos in Galashiels, has been tuning, restoring and repairing pianos for around 40 years.
"I just cannot think of a piano manufacturer in the Borders, certainly not since the war and certainly not one who would have purchased ivory in such bulk," said Mr Beattie this week.
"There have been several piano businesses, such as Strachans and Willie Coull's in Galashiels, but none of them actually made the instruments.
"I would be fascinated to know more about this incredible find."
The ivory trade has been illegal for many years and Holt's had to obtain a special certificate from the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to sell the Borders tusks as trophies.
Nick Holt, who reckons the successful bidder paid around 440,000 for the trophies when commissions are included, told TheSouthern: "Naturally, it was a great bit of business for us, so if there are any more tusks lurking in Borders cellars, we would like to hear about them."
The auctioneers are holding a free valuation day at the Royal Scots Club, Abercromby Place, Edinburgh on Wednesday, January 25.
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