Pro Arte Quartet detained in Belgium over Ivory


Two members of the quartet were detained for several hours in the Brussels airport over Belgian Custom’s concerns about the ivory content of three of their bows.  Supposedly the two musicians had the proper US paperwork,  but the Belgian authorities would not recognize it.  This points up a bigger problem than just the new US ivory laws – the international scope of CITES enforcement.  Every nation has different standards and rules – there is currently no internationally recognized document or passport in actual existence.

According to the quartet’s blog, the Belgium officials had never seen (or seemingly heard) of a CITES musical instrument document. It was only with the aid of the US consulate and direct contact with the Belgian cabinet minister in charge of the agency that oversees CITES that the two members were allowed to enter the country. So you may take all the correct steps to comply with US or local ivory laws but still run afoul of customs agents in other parts of the world.  Enforcement is arbitrary and contradictory which is confusing and scary.

Regarding which Fish and Wildlife form to use for your instrument or bow that may contain pre-ban materials, both plant or animal based, the Federal Register, Volume 7, Number 40, states:

“We are proposing a new application: FWS Form 3-200-88 (Musical Instrument
(CITES). The Musical Instrument application will be for multiple
border crossings for noncommercial use (including, but not limited to,
personal use, performance, display, or competition).”

This seems to be the closest thing we have to a multiple use CITES passport.  The form is now available on the Fish and Wildlife website.

Form link:


Danger – Grafts on Bows

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This is a magnified picture of a graft on a bow that came thru the shop.  You can see the two different pieces of pernambuco joined together along a line running across the photo.  The darker wood at the bottom is the piece with the brand on it that was glued onto another stick.  Notice not only the difference in color, but also how the pores of the two pieces don’t match up along the glue joint.  This bow was sold at a reputable shop and has a certificate from a well-known expert and dealer.   Unfortunately I have seen this a number of times.  The graft can be hidden under the grip & wrap or it can be cleverly blended into the handle where it can be surprisingly hard to see if done well.   However, be careful when looking for grafts because pernambuco can have unusually strong grain lines that are sometimes mistaken for joints or glued cracks.  Always get an opinion from an expert.

So what’s going on?  Someone at some point decided to create a valuable bow.  They may have had access to a broken bow by a famous French maker, so they decided to carefully attach the handle end of the bow with the original brand to a stick with a head in the same style of the maker.  The frog and button may or may not be original.  Often times dealers and experts may miss these alterations and certify or sell the bow with the best of intentions.  I know, because this happened to me once.  Other times, it is a case of willful ignorance or lack of due-diligence – folks are trying to make money after all.

Always check a bow you are buying for condition issues, even if you are purchasing it from a well known dealer and it has a good certificate.  If you are buying a bow that is priced significantly lower than normal, ask yourself and the dealer why.  Make sure to ask what repairs have been made – they must be reported completely and accurately.  If the dealer fully reveals the graft or any other repairs and you still love the bow, that’s just fine as long as the price is right.

If you find yourself with a grafted bow, contact the shop you bought it from and inform them of the issue right away.  I believe that in most cases, the shop is just as much of a victim as the musician and will want to set the issue right.  The dealer should either refund you, offer a trade in for the full purchase price towards another item in the shop, or give you a partial refund if you’d like to keep the bow.  When a bow is represented to you as being in a certain condition, by a defined maker and you later find something like a graft under the wrap, the folks who sold the bow to you are absolutely obligated to fix the problem.  If they are rude, unhelpful, or deny that there is a graft, it may be time to pursue other avenues to obtain restitution.

A grafted HR Pfretzschner - what is the world coming to?!?

A grafted HR Pfretzschner violin bow – hard to believe, but true.  Can you spot the graft?  Look near the grip.

Musicians win exemption from elephant ivory ban


Fish and Wildlife now says you can travel with your ivory-tipped bow.  However, the rules are still kind of odd, stating that you can travel with the item if it was made with elephant ivory prior to 1976 and you cannot sell it without having the Ivory switched out to a non-banned material.  It is still a good idea to have your bow tip replaced with faux-ivory plastic or silver when you get the chance.  Also, make sure you have all the correct paperwork when traveling in and out of the US.