Robert Estrin - piano expert

Can You Still Buy Pianos with Real Ivory Keys?

Are pianos with ivory keys still available on the market?

In this video, Robert talks about pianos with ivory keys and why it is no longer possible to find new pianos with such keys. But yet, you can find great, old pianos with ivory keys, which could still pose some problems if you want to move a piano from country to country. Watch the video to learn more about this interesting topic.

Released on November 12, 2014

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi, this is Robert Estrin at and with a viewer question. Can you get pianos with real ivory keys anymore? This is actually a very involved subject that I want to share with you, because there is some real interesting legislation going on that is quite alarming actually, which I'll get to in a minute.

First, the short answer to the question is not on new pianos you can't. That's right. The laws protecting elephants prevented ivory from being manufactured on American pianos back in the early 1970s. There were still some European companies that had ivory on their keys into the 1980s, but the trade of ivory has been very, very tightly controlled since then.

Now here's where it gets a little bit crazy. If you have a piano, let's say, that you bought before the laws changed, is there a problem with selling it? Well, there can be. For example, if you have a piano that was made, let's say, in the 1930s and has ivory keys, and you're moving to Europe and you want to move your piano with you. Well, if the customs officials discover ivory, they can actually impound the piano. You can get into all sorts of issues with that. In fact, any piano that can not be proven to be over 100 years old, it's illegal to transport it over to another country.

I spoke earlier about pending legislation. Well, the fish and wildlife and game department in the United States has new legislation and rules concerning ivory that are supposed to take effect which would make it illegal to transport any piano within the United States that has ivory keys. In fact, it's not just pianos; guitars with ivory inlay and violin bows. This has impacted people already overseas. There are some orchestras where their bows and their instruments have been taken by the officials.

If this happens, that would mean that if you move to another state and wanted your piano, technically you'd be breaking the law if this takes effect. This is a serious issue that affects many people. There have been some raids of antique stores and auctions and such where they've taken mass quantities of jewelry, artwork, and artifacts that contain ivory and taken them away.

There were even some instances in China where they've destroyed irreplaceable artworks of ivory to make the point. Because, of course, the illegal trade of elephants is a tragedy. Most of it actually is the domestic Chinese market, not the American market.

This is a strong reaction to try to protect the elephants. While the sentiment is in the right place, the legislation is incredibly illogical, as you might imagine. After all, some elephant that died 90 years ago is not going to be helped at all by having to rip the keys off of a piano and replace them with plastic, would it?

You might consider writing to your officials. This is a big issue. I'm watching to see what happens with this and how things unfold.

Of course, a lot of vintage pianos do have ivory keys. Can you replace ivory with plastic? Yes, but it's a lot of work, because the ivories are thinner than plastic so the keys have to be planed down. You might have to do some key leveling and some other work. It's not the simplest thing in the world to do. More than that, the ivory is irreplaceable, and why not keep it if it's in good shape.

That's the long and short of it. It's not a fun subject to bring to you, but an important one nevertheless.

Thanks so much for joining me, Robert Estrin, here at and Any of you who might have more information about this and any developments in this story, please forward them to me. I will post everything and see how things turn out.

All right. Thanks for joining me. I'll see you next time.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Howie on December 19, 2014 @7:27 pm PST
Interesting stuff. Love your videos!
Fulvia Bowerman * VSM MEMBER * on November 12, 2014 @10:19 am PST
Thank you for elaborating on my question about ivory keys. I am all for protecting the few elephants left, but I think that pending legislation of not being able to move your own piano from one state to another is going too far and it doesn't make any sense.
Robert - host, on November 12, 2014 @3:10 pm PST
I'm with you on this. Hopefully cool heads will prevail!
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