CITES is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora drawn up in 1973. This is the multilateral treaty that governs the trade of endangered species across borders and within countries. The treaty was imposed for strong ethical reasons in order to prevent the continued destruction of species of animal and wildlife to the point of extinction, but it raises difficult problems for owners and sellers of musical instruments, especially when crossing borders. A vast array of endangered species has been used in the manufacture of musical instruments during a time when the same pressures of threatened extinction did not apply.


Andrew Banks reports for the Antique Trade Gazette on recent cases in the United Kingdom where antiques dealers have been brought to court for trading in ivory that has been ‘worked’ after June 1947 in contravention of CITES rules. Trading in post-1947 ivory is an occupational hazard for anyone dealing in antiques where it may be especially difficult to prove the age of the material or the time when it was ‘worked’. This has become a particular problem where the defendant and prosecution have a difference of opinion. The result of recent rulings is to put the onus of responsibility on the prosecution to prove the age of any item. Whilst the implications are rather more significant for the antiques trade, this is of considerable comfort for owners of violin bows, where in most cases attribution gives a reliable means of dating work. For example, if an ivory-tipped bow was made by Eugene Sartory it cannot have been made any later than his death in 1946. Read More here


The League of American Orchestras provides the best up to date advice about problems of bringing bows in and out of the country. As of February 2014 the small amounts of ivory used on antique bows can safely travel across borders on condition that the bows were made before 1947 and that they were not bought after February 2014. Follow their blog for up to date information here.