The film-maker 20th Century Fox used genuine Edwardian dressing table items, sending them from Britain to Mexico, where filming took place. But when the props were brought back into England, Customs officials at Heathrow airport checked a box and found theitems were made from parts of tortoises, elephants, crocodiles and a hippopotamus.
The props include brushes, perfume jars, mirrors, cigar boxes and cigarette holders. There is a cigar cutter made from a hippopotamus tooth and a book of common prayer with an ivory cover.
Although it is not illegal to own goods made from animals such as turtles, alligators or tigers, owners who want to take them out of the country and bring them back have to get an import licence from Customs and Excise. "This is to stop endangered species being killed, and goods made from them being brought back into the country under the claim that they are antiques," a spokesman said.
Ann Ainslie of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species said: "The agent applied for retrospective permits, which were refused by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, as the agent knowingly shipped the items without obtaining a permit."
A permit costs pounds 10 per species, so for the sake of pounds 40, the film-maker has lost items worth hundreds of pounds.
The items have given a boost to an exhibition at Merseyside Maritime Museum in Liverpool - `Titanic and Lusitania, Floating Palaces of the Edwardian Age'. It was relying on a 20ft model of the Titanic as its main attraction. But the film props are likely to draw bigger crowds.
It is not the first time that the owner of movie memorabilia has been caught out. Gloria Swanson's tigerskin rug suffered the same fate. She gave the rug to the British novelist Elinor Glyn. When she died, it passed to a relative who wanted to ship it from Los Angeles to her home in Britain - but failed to get an endangered species permit.
After being confiscated, the rug went to the Customs and and Excise national museum in Liverpool, where it was renovated and put on display.Reuse content