Demystifying: Ivory


Our previous features around materials regulations have prompted considerable amounts of engagement and discussion, and I now have specific cases to use in demonstration of how the rules apply and the impact on the MI industry.  The potential lead issues are still being debated so I’ll leave that conversation to mature except for a little update at the end, but let’s start with a quick recap of the Ivory Act 2018 which came into force in June of last year.

The Act bans any trade in ivory, however there is a special exemption for musical instruments.  The criteria are quite strict and the penalties for not meeting them are severe including the possibility of a prison sentence and/or a £250,000 fine.  Here’s the lowdown…

  • A musical instrument is exempt from the ivory ban if it was made before 1975 and contains less than 20% ivory by volume.  This exemption is not automatic – you need to assess the instrument and register it with APHA, including photos of identifying features (Eg. serial number) and of the ivory content.  Each registration costs £20.
  • Until you have registered an instrument for exemption, it cannot be subject to any transaction.  This includes selling, buying or hiring the instrument, and the exemption must also be registered before offering the instrument for sale or hire (advertising online or in print, displaying in the showroom or in the store window).

Black and white regulations are one thing, but a real life example is always useful.  Michael Barnfield at Mickleburgh (Bristol) has kindly agreed to sharing his experience, after he checked with ourselves about a particular piano.

The piano in question is a 1988 C.Bechstein grand piano.  By this time the number of pianos built with ivory key facings had vastly reduced, and any ivory used had to be procured in line with the CITES laws.  It was mostly top-end makers such as Bechstein who still did this, and these instruments were made and sold in line with the relevant laws of the time and in good faith.

Mickleburgh were recently asked to sell this instrument on behalf of a customer and wanted to check the situation in relation to the UK Ivory Act, 2018.

Although the piano was manufactured to the applicable laws of the time, it doesn’t meet the requirements of the UK Ivory Act, 2018, as it was made after 1975. The UK law introduced last June makes more stringent demands, unaffected by CITES regulations where the latter are less so.  Therefore, in order to sell this piano, even on commission as a facilitator, Mickleburgh have responsibility to ensure the ivory key facings have been removed and replaced with synthetic alternatives before registering the instrument for the standard exemption.  Only then can the instrument be offered for sale or hire.

Having taken due diligence, Mickleburgh contacted C.Bechstein for advice and they have shown true faith in their instruments by offering a set of the synthetic key facings used on their current pianos at a substantially reduced cost.  Working together with the MIA and Bechstein, Mickleburgh have ensured adherence to the law and reached a position where the customer’s needs can be met.

Just q quick note on the REACH regulations… Campaigners in favour of the proposed new legislation have expressed fear that it may be watered down for political gain, given that EU elections in 2024 are looming.  Depending on your own position and the potential impacts of the legislation, this could be either positive or negative news.  I’ll keep watch and update you as things develop.

If you have any experiences to share in relation to the UK Ivory Act, 2018 or any other legislation, please drop Matt an email.


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