'Roadshow' Trumpets $1 Million Rhino Horn Cups, Despite Role in Species' Decline

July 25th, 2011

The Internet is abuzz with news that during a recent taping in Tulsa, Oklahoma, an appraiser for “Antiques Roadshow” was asked to place a value on five 17th- or 18th-century Chinese cups made out of rhinoceros horn. According to Tulsa’s NBC affiliate, KJRH, the cups were valued by Asian art expert Lark Mason at somewhere between $1 and $1.5 million, making them the most highly valued objects in the show’s history. The Tulsa episodes of “Antiques Roadshow” will air sometime in the first half of 2012.

While PBS’s Antiques Roadshow was celebrating this find, a quick check of the PBS “Nature” website sent a different message. There, a companion article to an episode about rhinos, which aired in 2008, begins, “All five of the world’s diverse species of rhinoceros have been brought to the edge of extinction because of human appetite for their distinctive horns.”

The carved horns brought to the Tulsa “Roadshow” taping are undeniably beautiful and can be safely described as museum pieces—in “The British Museum Book of Chinese Art,” a pair of horn cups are reproduced on page 183 and you can see another here. But at the risk of sounding preachy and politically correct, here’s hoping the “Roadshow” episode featuring the rhino-horn cups will at least include a mention of the cost associated with this rare and expensive example of beauty.

What do you think? Should “Antiques Roadshow” explain the role of decorative arts in the near-extinction of the rhinoceros, or are the two things separate?

14 comments so far

  1. AnnMarie Mason Says:

    Yes, I think the problem should be discussed. Education is the key to collecting.

  2. Nancy Brown Says:

    They were obviously made many, many years ago, when humans did not think of animals becoming extinct, and at that time there were many of them around.

  3. Kenny Says:

    Yes Show Them. But Educate The Population.

  4. Attie Says:

    These things are beyond repulsive. Shame on Antiques Roadshow for giving them one minute of time.

  5. Penny Swears Says:

    I don’t see the issue. These were made centuries before the idea of conservation even existed. They don’t have to discuss ivory every time it is appraised; why this?

  6. jackie Says:

    Of course the roadshow should explain the connection between decorative arts and the near extinction of animal sources!

  7. Erin Says:

    So the assumption is that during the appraisal, the expert doesn’t make mention of the affect the production of these cups had on the animal population? I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and say he does – having watched the show, they are not exactly short on information regarding an item. So before folks go and crucify PBS and Antiques Roadshow for something they have yet to do, save your judgements for after the show airs when you can make an informed opinion.

  8. Diane Says:

    Yes – PBS should take the opportunity to let viewers know both about the horn items for their beauty, collectable value etc. in the past and present, but also the current ban on such – which does affect value. It is, after all, an educational station show. I’ve heard the experts in other instances make mentions of endangered species issues on this same show,
    so I’m guessing there may be a segment added or comments added before it airs about the endangered species real “elephant in the room” in this segment. The experts on the show are not usually PBS personnel, in most cases, but auction house experts, so it may have been a slip by a less informed expert, and PBS may well remedy that before it airs with a segment accompanying it about the endangered products issue. I hope they do – then the wider public will have a sense of what to watch out for when buying – or selling – items.

  9. Eric Kirkbright Says:

    I’m glad the cups have not yet been ground up and sold to cure stupidity.

  10. Jerry Joseph Says:

    Just saw the new show Storage Locker had the guy who drives me up the wall with his “Yep” found several iteams in a locker he bought. A rhino horn cup was one item.

  11. dls Says:

    they bring up the subject and they always do; they explain that these were created many years before people imagined such a thing as endangered or extinct; they also always explain that a person needs proper documentation showing the age of the item to avoid any conflict with current laws in having these items in your possession; the Road Show always does a good job of explaining if people will hear what they are saying in their appraisal; the same show had a carved elephant tusk, another endangered animal and again they explained the current laws and having the proper documentation of the item and their purchase documents

  12. Sharon O'Brien Says:

    Antiques Roadshow DID explain that the requirements by the U.S. govt. are that the rhinoceros horn must be from a certain age back in time. This PC garbage that so many people jump on in order to place blame has gotten way out of hand. I’ve been watching the roadshow for years and they’ve never missed explaining the ramifications of having items from endangered species. Next time watch the show and this issue should not come up again. I do believe poaching is frowned upon in Africa. Have you not heard Africans (majority) do not want to see their national treasures disappear?

  13. cvb Says:

    The Roadshow ALWAYS talks about what’s legal and what’s not. These are antiquities.

  14. rob pearcey Says:

    I have some cups with mammoth bone handles ! Made to order in 1980s Needless to say we killed nothing.

Leave a Comment or Ask a Question

If you want to identify an item, try posting it in our Show & Tell gallery.