New Ivory Laws and Travel


On Friday we attended the seminar that was the main reason for our visit to New York: “How to Tackle the Instrument and Raw Materials Transportation Issues.” The main issue here is the latest law banning the import and exportation of ivory and how this effects musicians traveling with their bows in and out of the US. There were representatives from the US Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, the USDA, The League of American Orchestras, as well as several bow and violin makers.

The folks from Fish and Wildlife led off with a presentation on their duties, the laws covering banned or controlled materials, and the paperwork needed to legally transport items. Next the USDA explained its responsibilities and discussed accessing information on which materials are listed under the CITES Treaty Appendices I, II, and III.

While the botanist from the UDSA was explaining how to use the website to check if a material was banned or controlled under CITES using bamboo as an example, she was rudely interrupted several times by members of the audience who shouted out loud objections to her talking about bamboo because our field doesn’t use the material. John Bennett, an international environmental specialist and attorney who was serving as a kind of moderator for the seminar did his best to explain (with great patience) that she was simply using bamboo as an example and that the procedure she was outlining could be used for any material including Peranmbuco or Ebony.

At this point, Christophe Landon, the NYC violin shop owner, maker and dealer (who had a Stradivari stolen from his shop in 2002), entered the room dressed rather humorously in full Soho dandy garb – a well fitted sport coat of broad, vertical red and blue stripes, white pants, and blue shoes. He sat in the very front row and began to fidget obviously. It wasn’t long before he too began interrupting the presentation of the USDA in a loud French accent. The moderator was not able to immediately quiet him and he was able to hijack the proceedings to some extent. From what I was able to gather from his churlish behavior was that he was upset that he had been stopped in customs and had a number of bows confiscated. He complained that while entire professional symphony orchestras are allowed to travel in and out of the country with dozens of bows containing banned materials such as ivory, dealers like him are being singled out while carrying only a few bows. His histrionics drew some tepid applause from the crowd and several musicians joined in, clearly worried that their bows could be taken from them.

The saying, “One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch” comes to mind here, but the petulant antics of Landon were simply the most dramatic and angry examples. The mood of those that spoke was at turns outraged, fearful, indignant, and anxious. Thankfully there were a handful of sensible and reasoned comments from the audience and panel but they were in the minority. As the seminar progressed, a number of people in the crowd and panel turned on Chistophe and demanded he behave himself (which he reluctantly did) but this wasn’t until after he took the microphone, stood up to face the crowd and began to carry on at length about his experiences. At that point I walked out and left my poor wife behind to take notes and behold the madness.

I completely understand that someone who has, like Landon, had expensive bows confiscated on some kind of bureaucratic technicality would be angry and frustrated. This is a serious issue. It’s important that the functionaries of the various US agencies involved understand our problems and concerns. However, it is counterproductive and impolite to shout and carry-on while drowning out the voices of others.

In my mind the seminar failed miserably to create a dialog where musicians, makers, dealers and representatives could trade ideas, concerns and suggest solutions. The presentations did provide a decent introduction to the issues, laws and procedures that must now be taken into consideration when importing and exporting instruments and bows with certain natural wildlife materials, but I’m afraid that the rather rabid reaction of certain members of the crowd served only to offend and alienate the folks who, after all, are only tasked with enforcing the regulations.

Without a doubt we as a community of luthiers and players are faced with a difficult situation, but there are solutions and sensible precautions we can take. The issue revolves around proving that the items we carry do not contain any illegal material. The agents from Fish and Wildlife made it clear that if your bow does not contain ivory, no special papers or permits are needed to move it though US customs, as neither pernambuco or ebony are on appendix I of CITES. The law states that the owner or bearer of an item such as a bow must prove that there are no banned wildlife materials incorporated into the item. So the question is: if stopped or challenged how does one prove, for example, that a white casein-plastic headplate is not ivory? There are no specific rules for this situation, but a representative of Fish and Wildlife said that any supporting paperwork would be helpful.

I recommend that players who plan on traveling out of the US for professional purposes bring a bow that has either a metal or plastic headplate and an ebony frog, along with a document from the person who did the work spelling out that the material used was not ivory. The document should be on shop stationery and have attached to it the shop’s receipt for the material from their supplier. In addition it may be good idea for our industry, in the absence of an official document from any US agency that proves that an item does NOT contain a banned material, to supply our customers with an updated form of insurance appraisal. This new type of appraisal would include a detailed description of the item, it’s weight and measurements, origin and age, along with a breakdown of the materials it contains – using the Latin genus and species names as outlined in CITES. These two documents would accompany the bow when traveling and help prevent any issues when leaving or entering the US.

In the absence of the proposed CITES “passport” which has not come into actual existence as of the writing of this article, the changing of headplates, the creation of new documents by the industry for traveling musicians (as well as dealers) and an increased knowledge of the laws must suffice for now as the tools we use to continue to pursue our livelihoods in an increasingly complex and regulated world.

Let’s not lose our tempers and have fits – we must act as mature adults, find solutions and take responsibility for ourselves as well as our beloved bows and instruments.



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