Music Blog
  • Ivory Keys

    Published - Tue, 01 Nov 2016 21:19:40 +0000

We often are asked about the trade-in value of older pianos with ivory keys. But unfortunately, it's now illegal to buy or sell any ivory at all, except in quite rare circumstances. Consequently, we can't trade for your ivory-keyed piano at all.

Here's a quick FAQ about the topic:

Why can’t you trade for my piano with ivory keys?

The short answer is this: It’s illegal. According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services website, “We are currently undertaking a series of administrative actions to implement a nearly complete ban on commercial elephant ivory trade.”

Aren’t there any exceptions for older or “antique” instruments?

Yes, but only under exceedingly limited circumstances. The only allowable exception is for ivory “imported under a ‘CITES pre-Convention certificate’ which the seller (that’s you) must demonstrate.” The required document must pre-date Feb. 26, 1976, and must “substantiate…the date of import (for example, a copy of the relevant Form 3-177 Declaration for Importation or Exportation of Fish or Wildlife or CITES export or re-export permit).” As it is unlikely that anyone has such a document, this effectively outlaws the sale of pianos with ivory keys.

Can I give the piano to my niece and have movers deliver it to her?

Not legally. Interstate or intrastate movement of ivory within the United States is allowed, but only if the mover can demonstrate that the ivory was legally acquired, using the above-referenced document.

What are the penalties for violators?

“The maximum penalty…is one year in prison and a $100,000 fine for an individual, $200,000 for an organization.”

Is the government actively enforcing this ban?

In June 2014, the U.S. Government seized the bows of the Budapest (Hungary) Festival Orchestra on an inbound flight, on the suspicion that the bows contained ivory. (A Hungarian expert had verified that the bows contained no ivory, but that didn’t matter.)

In August 2014, two U.S. teenagers had their bagpipes seized as they returned from a Canadian competition.

In December 2013, Boujemaa Razgui, a flute virtuoso of Moroccan descent, had his handmade flutes confiscated and smashed in New York because of their ivory content.

In 2011, Pascal Vieillard of Atlanta’s A-440 Pianos was handed a $17,500 fine and three years’ probation for not having the correct documentation on an antique piano he sold.

What can I do with my ivory-keyed piano?

Unfortunately, you have only three legal options:
1) You can keep your piano.
2) You can have a technician come to your home and remove the ivory keytops, which you can then keep. The piano keys can then be recovered with plastic keytops. (This will likely not be cost-effective with many older instruments.)
3) You can have a technician come to your home and remove the ivory keytops, which you can then keep. You can then have the rest of the piano hauled to the landfill.

How does this help protect elephants? My piano is ____ years old; those elephants are long gone.

We don’t know.