Ivory in the News – New Laws Could Affect Scrimshanders Livelyhoods

Here we are in the 21st century with the future of the elephant in our hands. International laws have been passed in the 1970’s to protect the pachyderms, yet still they are in peril due to their tusks. Forty years and the trade in ivory has increased instead of decreased worldwide.


Currently there is no way to tell the difference between forty year old ivory and one year old ivory.

The simple solution is to ban the sale of ivory, right? Illegal to sell or trade, ivory becomes worthless. And so does your grand piano. Your great grandma’s upright too. And that guitar, violin, bagpipe, and anything else you may own or inherit that contains ivory. religious relics, jewelry, etc., reduced to trinkets you may only possess, but never sell.You would see that antique Martin guitar on the antiques roadshow with the announcer saying “if you brought this to us last year it would have been worth $12,500, but since the laws have changed, you might want to roast a hotdog over it, because without the proper paperwork it’s only worth kindling now.”

So how do you prove your ivory is pre-1973 on that instrument, or jewelry, or other item? It’s doubtful you have the receipt that clearly states when and where it was bought as well as it’s origin. Post 1973 guitars with ivory inlay would be illegal to sell as well, they wouldn’t be grandfathered in, and you’d be having to carry your instrument’s papers proving it’s serial number shows it’s date of manufacture. Violin bows, with their sliver of antique ivory would make them illegal to sell as well, not to mention coming back into the country and hoping to have your bow when you return home. See http://www.npr.org/2014/04/07/300267040/musicians-take-note-your-instrument-may-be-contraband

Listen to this npr report: http://pd.npr.org/anon.npr-mp3/npr/atc/2014/04/20140407_atc_musicians_take_note_your_instrument_may_be_contraband.mp3?dl=1

What can you do about this?

Thankfully, we live in a country where we have a voice. We can take fifteen minutes out of one day to write our congressmen and tell them that this law must be refined. We can take two minutes per week while we’re deleting the emails for various enhancements that still get through our best spam filters to read an update from fixesa.org, do a quick google search on “news+ivory ban” without the quotes and peruse the results.

Not sure what to write? Below is a letter being sent to my congressmen. Feel free to make a copy and fill in your personal information and views on these laws. At this point they have not been written into law, but time is running out to make your voice heard.


You need to reconsider a total ban on elephant ivory sales in the United States. As the law is currently written, anyone attempting to sell an old piano would be in conflict with the law, as well as anyone re-entering the country with their prized violin bow, guitar or other instruments whose parts are comprised of vintage ivory.

As a scrimshander I work with mammoth ivory as well as other natural and man-made materials, as well as repurposing old piano keys.  Even though these sources would be allowable under the proposed regulation, my fear is that my stock may be confiscated under the assumption that it is fresh elephant ivory. Other artists currently obtain pre-ban ivory from estate sales where elephant tusks may hold no intrinsic value to the heirs but could be reused to create works of art without endangering any living creature. These artisan’s livelihood would be severely compromised under the proposed law as it is written.

The 1975 CITES treaty and subsequent regulations regarding cetacean ivory were handled in a measured approach which gave owners and dealers of ivory products the ability to have their items cataloged (by obtaining a “Pre-CITES Certificate” – see http://www.aphis.usda.gov/regulations/vs/iregs/products/downloads/fish_wildlife_fs.pdf).

Furthermore, the 5-year grace period allowed sale of items such as whale teeth so that dealers wouldn’t be left holding the bag. After that, a limited number of permits were issued, allowing certain dealers to engage in commerce of these beautifully carved or scrimshawed items. Under that management plan, populations of the most critically endangered species – sperm and humpback whales – have risen sharply in the last 40 years. As the proposed law is currently written, there are no such provisions.

The import of elephant ivory has been banned for over 20 years per the CITES treaty, and illicit trade is virtually nonexistent in the USA.

Banning trade in the USA, as well as destruction of ivory might make people feel they have the “moral high ground”, but we are in a global economy: making all ivory in the USA worthless or destroying it only makes its value greater elsewhere. If the demand stays the same in the Asia but the supply has been decreased world-wide, any freshman economics student would tell you the price of ivory would increase and that will make poaching more lucrative.

In summary, the proposed law banning ivory must be re-written to allow the use of pre-ban ivory, a “grace period” where ivory merchants may obtain the proper permits or certificates for the use of said ivory, and clearly written laws pertaining to the use of ivory in or on existing musical instruments to allow their import and export as the musician’s “tools of the trade”.  Furthermore, existing artisans should be allowed the ability to legally acquire pre-ban ivory from within our borders for use in a final product.



Andrew Perkins
101 South Chesterfield Road,
PO Box 1022
Williamsburg, MA 01096-1022

Mark Thogerson has also shared his personal letter which you can read: http://scrimshaw.net/ivory_ban.htm

Be sure to make it personal. Do you own an instrument or antique that would be affected by these laws?  Make note of it or that a relative’s piano or jewelry would become worthless with the way the law is currently written and that it must be rewritten!

Who do I send it to?

You can find your representatives by going to http://www.usa.gov/Contact/Elected.shtml

Take five to ten minutes to let your representatives know this needs revision!

Let us know you’ve taken action by leaving a comment.  We’ll continue these posts with the next on identifying ivory.


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