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Did You Know... U.S. Customs Declaration Made London Bridge the World's Largest Antique Ever Sold?

London Bridge wasn't exactly falling down in the 1960s, but it was sinking under the weight of modern traffic. When the capital city in England decided to build another to replace it, the 1831 bridge was put up for sale. The winning bid came from Robert P. McCulloch, American entrepreneur and chairman of McCulloch Oil Company.

McCulloch paid $2,460,000plus shipping costs of around $240,000to bring the bridge over, piece by piece. He bought the structure as a tourist attraction to entice people to vacation and potentially retire in Lake Havasu City, Ariz., a planned community he established a few years earlier. Rebuilding London Bridge took three years and several million dollars more, which strained McCulloch's finances.

London Bridge across the Thames River in England on its first opening day, August 1, 1831.
London Bridge across the Thames River in
England on its first opening day, August 1, 1831.

If McCulloch had to pay a tariff on top of the purchase price and other costs, it might have changed his bid. In 1968, the U.S. rate on imported manufactured granite-stone prepared for bridge construction, in this case-was 11 percent ad valorem (Latin for "according to value"). To simplify the calculation, if you accept the value to be the price paid of $2.46 million and ignore the iron lampposts that shipped along with the stone, the duty on the bridge would have added another $270,600 to the cost.

Instead, CBP's legacy Customs Service declared the 137-year-old London Bridge to be an "antique" and therefore duty-free. In doing so, Customs followed legal precedent that historic pieces over 100 years old are antiques and not subject to tariffs-taxes or "duties" on imports and exports. The 100-year standard is also accepted internationally. At that time, London Bridge was entered into the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest antique ever sold.

Transporting 10,000 tons of bridge was accomplished in several shipments. The first 855 ton batch of granite took a 10,000 mile, month-long journey from London, through the Panama Canal, and on to the Port of Los Angeles at Long Beach in California. It arrived on July 4, 1968 and was handled by U.S. Customs Import Specialist Joseph D. Farrar. The granite blocks were then trucked 300 miles inland to Lake Havasu City.

The 1960s was a banner decade for acquiring oversize British collectibles. The 17th century church of St. Mary Aldermansbury was imported to Missouri in 1966. The luxury ship Queen Mary-not an antique-was bought by the city of Long Beach for $3.45 million in 1967. As for London Bridge, McCulloch's gamble paid off: the bridge is still one of Arizona's most-visited tourist attractions.

Last modified: 
December 20, 2019