The Legal Ambiguities Of Turtle Shell

When it comes to buying or selling tortoise or turtle shell, what is legal? The legality of selling these items is hotly debated among collectors and dealers; and when a government agency is called in you often get conflicting answers. Online research is even more confusing. One thing we know for sure — the species known as hawk shell is on the critically endangered list and most interstate shipping is illegal. Some websites suggest that it’s legal to buy and sell turtle shell jewelry that is more than 100 years old, and hasn’t “been altered or repaired with modern materials.”

According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, under the provisions of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, it is a violation of federal law to import, export, transport, sell, receive, acquire or purchase in interstate or foreign commerce any endangered wildlife or endangered wildlife products. Statutes note that you can own a product if it was made prior to 1947 (and you can prove that it was made before 1947); and that it is in its natural state.

turtle items


When a customer approached us with a lifelong collection of incredible turtle shell jewelry, book racks, brushes and combs, compacts and match safes, we politely declined. Ninety percent of her collection couldn’t be sold for certain, and we will advise her on the other 10 percent, because four pieces had English sterling silver controlled hallmarks, dated 1912, which should suffice as proof of age.

Various Wildlife Products

tbd 1912 stamp


(We haven’t sold these four pieces yet, as we await advice of counsel.) The bottom line with any endangered            species — it is best to err on the side of caution and not traffic in these items at all. The 1975 value of this            collection of turtle shell items is over $10,000. Today’s value is to be determined; possibly it has no value at all.

This is an archival article formerly written and is for informational purposes only. The valuations in this article have likely changed since it was first written.

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