We’re all well aware of the reasons behind the tight regulations associated with ivory trade in the UK. However, on the 6th of June (2022) things changed and we, as instrument owners, need to be aware of them. It is now illegal to sell, or advertise for sale in the UK, a musical instrument with ivory content, unless the appropriate criteria are met (and exemption obtained). Breaches of this legislation can result in a £250,000 fine or five years imprisonment. For the purposes of simplicity this overview focuses on the piano alone, information on other items can be found on HM Government’s website.
The standard exemption point that pertains to us concerns musical instruments made before 1975, with less than 20% ivory content (by volume). To quote HM Government – “a standard piano with ivory keys would likely meet the ‘less than 20% volume’ condition for the musical instrument exemption – however, if the piano has any other ivory parts, other than the keys, it may not qualify so you need to measure and include all the ivory content in the assessment”.
So, how can you asses if your instrument has ivory keytops (or any other ivory content e.g. plaques), there are some easy pointers below:
1. Ivory keytops can be made in three parts – the front, keytop and stem. Closer inspection will reveal join lines. However, some keytops are a single covering, you may need to investigate further.
2. Ivory has a grain and texture, just like your fingernails.
3. Being porous ivory will pick up dirt and yellow with age.
If in doubt you can hold an ultraviolet light source over suspected ivory content. Genuine ivory will reflect bright white or violet-blue but plastic or resin components will absorb the light and appear dull. Alternatively, you can contact a piano technician who will be able to appraise your instrument for you.
Should your item(s) contain ivory and you wish to sell then you will need to obtain an exemption before advertising. These are available online by clicking here or by requesting a paper application from:
Animal and Plant Health Agency
Centre for International Trade – Bristol
The cost of registering a single item under standard exemption terms is £20. To register 3-20 items is £50. To progress your application you will also need to provide photographs and a description of your findings.
If you require any further information or advice then please use the HM Government resources referenced in this text or contact the PPG Secretary.
PLEASE NOTE: The PPG will not publish advertisements of instruments for sale unless proof of a successful exemption application is supplied.