Stringent new rules in the USA outlawing the selling, transporting and ‘owning with intent to sell’ of ivory may be good news for elephants, but they have serious implications for musicians. The Budapest Festival Orchestra had to borrow bows from New York musicians after their own were impounded at JFK Airport last month, with each bow only retrievable on payment of a $500 fine.

Members of the American Musical Instrument Society (AMIS) said that Congress was making criminals of people who had an antique piano in the basement. ‘How does that possibly help the elephants?’ asked one member. Hollywood celebrities Meryl Streep and Billy Joel joined a growing chorus of those calling for an outright ban, even where ivory is only a small part of an antique instrument.

‘The preference for ivory keys doesn’t justify slaughter,’wrote Joel on his blog. Only a total ban on all ivory products, new and antique, would have an impact on the illegal trade, he insisted.

New Jersey politician Rav Mukherji praised Streep for her backing and said that the Al-Qaeda backed Al-Shabaab, responsible for the Nairobi shopping mall attack, made up to $600,000 a month from the ivory trade.

In response AMIS decided to ‘wave the honest flag of Saving Our Cultural Artefacts’. They claimed that, were the ban to be enforced, the US was in danger of losing not only hundreds of museum instruments but also such national treasures as Benjamin Franklin’s ivory day notebooks and George Washington’s false teeth.

The current law exempts instruments built before 1976 provided a certificate from the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) can be produced. Lack of documentation incurred the Budapest orchestra’s penalties and it is considered unrealistic to expect owners of an heirloom piano to be able to prove date of manufacture which certification requires.

Manufacturers of period instruments on both sides of the Atlantic are extremely concerned. The ban also includes rosewood, ebony, pernambuco and tortoiseshell. ‘Almost all the materials used in 18th- and 19th-century instruments are now regulated by CITES,’ said an AMIS spokesman. ‘The new rules foretell the destruction of the early music industry as no one will be able to travel with their instruments, have them repaired or upgrade them.’

Written by Rick Jones
This news story was originally published on


  1. Raymond Attfield 10.08.14 3:44pm

    Over emotional responses like this only discredit the entirely valid objective. Please Americans, use your intellect, act intelligently.

  2. David Dutton 16.09.14 6:46pm

    Raymond (above) seems to miss the point, e.g. those who own keyboard instruments built around 1850 have no way of certifying through CITES the actual date of manufacture. Broadwood in the UK lost all of its files in a fire many years ago, and I’m sure it would be extremely difficult to get manufacture statements from Steinway, given that they as well as other noted companies have gone through multiple consolidations and mergers. And what are all the high school and grade school bands to do about their stock of (student type) ebony clarinets? Will this mean that any group travelling to a competition in Canada will have to turn in all their non-documented instruments on return?
    The early music movement, played on historical instruments and modern reproductions, has been in the forefront of using substitute materials long before this became an issue – recorder, oboe, string and keyboard builders have long used such in their instruments.

  3. BagpipesFAO 16.09.14 9:23pm

    i dont believe this article is entirely accurate. The way Im reading the Cites website, it indicates that regulated woods are site specific. For ex, *only* Madagascar ebony is a Cites species,, but how does one go around proving/disproving that? Also, Cites forbids commerce & transport of many of these woods *only* if they are in the form of logs, sawn wood, veneer sheets and plywood…meaning ALREADY worked (presumably pre-Cites) items, and naturally occurring pieces, (twigs& Limbs I guess?) are not affected. The website , although extremely detailed, is definitely not user friendly and certainly not aimed at practical users.

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