Antiques Law – the do’s and don’ts when it comes to rosewood

Rosewood refers to one of around a dozen species of wood from the genus Dalbergia. It is often brown and well grained leading to its popularity in the making of furniture, luxury flooring and guitars. Its name stems from the sweet odour of the wood.

In general, world stocks of rosewood are in decline through overexploitation. Rosewood is now protected worldwide. At a summit of the international wildlife trade in South Africa, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) moved to protect the world’s most trafficked wild product by placing all 300 species of the rosewood tree under trade restrictions.

Under CITES, trading in rosewood products made prior to 1947 is perfectly permissible. The position post 1947 is also clear. If you are buying a piece of rosewood, usually furniture, that was made after 1947, reputable and responsible dealers will indicate on the listing that the piece will come with an Article 10 Certificate (sometimes called a CITES Certificate). The seller will apply for certification and this will accompany the piece of rosewood – this is called a ‘Transaction Specific Certificate (TSC)’ which is issued in the name of the applicant and may only be used by them for one transaction. Without an Article 10 Certificate rosewood should not be traded.

Determining the precise species of rosewood can be difficult. It is possible to send a small sample of the wood for laboratory testing at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (at a cost of around £120) but typically this is an invasive procedure unsuitable for furniture or works of art. It is preferable instead to assume the timber is Dalbergia nigra and apply to the Wildlife Licensing & Registration Service for a licence and Article 10 certificate.

An exemption to CITES was proposed in 2017 and came into law in November 2019 in relation to guitars and other musical instruments made from rosewood. This amendment allowed the international trade in rosewood guitars or other musical instruments without any Article 10 certificates being required.



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