Act on the Ivory Act: How you can spread the word.

Over the past weeks we’ve been campaigning hard for the petition ‘Exempt bow of stringed instruments from the Ivory Act registration requirement’. The deadline for signatures is 23 July 2019, so there is still plenty of time for us to exceed the 10,000 required to get a response from Parliament. Under the rules of the petition system 100,000 signatures will trigger an automatic debate in parliament, but within the small print, a much smaller number may provide the mandate for a debate to be brought forward by member’s of parliament. As the petition is based on expert opinion from a small and specialist group, we are at a point where truly every signature counts. Please encourage your musician friends and clients to get involved. Share through social media, email client lists, and print out the letter below with a QR code attached so that customers can easily scan it with their phone and go to the government’s petition website. Go directly to the government petition website here and sign right now:

Thank you for your time. Ultimately the matter is for parliament to decide once we have put our evidence forward. Notwithstanding the negative consequences for musicians, we firmly believe that government has failed to see the extent of the problem, and the regulatory requirements that they putting forward have the dangerous potential of diverting vital resources from the real issue of preventing smuggling of ivory into and through UK ports.

BVMA ivory petition QR.jpg

BVMA Newsletter 93 is in the post.

In this Issue:

Benjamin Hebbert on an anonymous 1664 instrument monogramed for the court of King Charles II.
Juliet Barker looks back at her year studying at the legendary Mittenwald school of violin making.
John Basford reveals some fascinating references to makers in the London law courts, 1750-1882.
Harry Mairson’s Incomplete guide to Digital Amati.

Benjamin Hebbert
Petition the Ivory Act registration requirement.

Dear Friends and Colleagues,


May I draw your attention to a petition which was published recently - ‘Exempt bows of stringed instruments from the Ivory Act registration requirement.'


The UK Ivory bill became an Act on 20th December 2018, and as soon as it passes into law (expected late 2019) all owners of elephant ivory-tipped bows for stringed instruments will have to first register their bows and then obtain permits in order for them to be allowed to be sold outside the UK (or outside Europe if Brexit does not occur). To obtain these permissions, owners will need to provide proof, which is often difficult to obtain, that their bows were made before 1975.


The music community fully supports measures to tackle the illegal trade in ivory and the poaching of elephants. It is well known, however, that bows are no longer made using elephant ivory and are not connected to elephant ivory trafficking. The time and expense involved for those in the music professions as well as the authorities will be huge and quite burdensome, without providing any countervailing conservation benefit. These resources would be far better spent on tackling the true sources of poaching and trafficking. It should be noted that replacing the original ivory tips damages and devalues the bows, and the only other material with the right structural properties is mammoth ivory, which is itself likely to be added to the ban. For all the above reasons, the petition seeks to exempt bows from permitting requirements.


If you would be willing to take a moment to sign the petition it would much appreciated by all, especially by the many musicians and makers who depend on bows for their livelihoods. When 10,000 signatures have been obtained, government will respond to this petition and with 100,000 signatures it will be considered for debate in Parliament. Please feel free to forward this email to family, friends and colleagues, and to use your social media accounts to help publicise this petition. Thank you very much for taking the time to help this important effort.

Details of the Ivory Bill itself can be found here:

Yours sincerely, 

The British Violin Making Association

BVMA ivory petition QR.jpg
Why musicians should appeal against the ivory act

Benjamin Hebbert on the ethical tightrope of campaigning for exemptions to the Ivory Act while supporting its aim to put a stop to the slaughter of elephants
(As published in The Strad, 30 January 2019)

With my hat on as chairman of the British Violin Making Association, I had the responsibility of writing a submission for the public consultation on the Ivory Bill back in 2017 before it was brought to Parliament.

But laudable as the musical world is (and it is my world), as I wrote my detailed deposition to the United Kingdom’s Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) I felt my stomach twisting in knots at the idea of challenging a bill intended for saving some of the most beloved creatures in the world from extinction. Was it really worth messing around with this bill for the sake of making life easier for musicians?

I suffered my own crisis of conscience, but then a sudden realisation dawned, and it became all the more important to complete my analysis and send it off. In my summary of the situation I could see how the government had failed to assess the scale and nature of the problem as it related to musical instruments. There was a real risk of diverting enormous resources away from the urgent fight against smuggling and poaching thus undermining rather than supporting the goal of wildlife conservation. Along with fellow voices campaigning amongst the violin world and in other musical instruments with a similar past, we worked to make our voice heard.

The market in musical instruments does not support the trade in illegal ivory in any form, and does not add to perceptions of prestige that create demand and drive the price on the illegal market.

If you are not familiar with violin bows, in the overwhelming majority of cases the ivory issue relates to the white faceplate protecting the tip of the bow as seen on the nineteenth-century example below. It is a fraction of the size of a piano key, and roughly the same size as a thumbnail. The problem lies in the sheer volume of such artefacts in circulation and every day use.


The Defra public consultation drew the largest response of such an exercise ever, receiving 71,238 submissions. Even when you eliminate 60,613 campaign responses that was still a lot to wade through, and somehow we managed to get our voice heard. The government was under an enormous amount of pressure to do the right thing, but sometimes the simple way forwards is not the best ecologically. Ultimately, the rights and wrongs of this petition are for government to decide. We, the musicians, and the technical support behind the musical world (makers, restorers, repairers and dealers) simply want to be able to state our case to government clearly.

Ivory was introduced to the world of violin bows centuries ago when there was no question about the ethical use of it. As the modern kind of bow evolved around 1800, an ivory faceplate, about the size and thickness of a fingernail, became a clever addition to it. If the bow was dropped on its tip, the ivory would fracture under the force, reducing the likelihood that the bow itself would break, hence many have survived since the19th century that would have otherwise been destroyed.

It had a decorative element to it as well. Other bows were tipped with nickel, silver, gold, ebony and occasionally with mother-of-pearl, but these were designed with thinner dimensions to counteract the variables in weight and balance, so it is not as simple as replacing ivory with a different material. Even titanium is too dense and affects the playing qualities of a bow if used as a replacement. As a result we would prefer to repair and conserve existing ivory components of old bows in a minimally invasive way, and the only satisfactory replacement material comes from fossil stocks of mammoth ivory, which is also likely to be added to the ivory ban.

As the centuries have passed it is demonstrable that there is no premium in price for a bow with fragments of an elephant’s tusk on them against others. Most of them – well beyond 99% – have no inherent value at all beyond what a musician is willing to pay for their playing qualities, and even their age doesn’t give them an inherent antique ‘premium’. Over the 19th and early 20th century more violins and bows were made than at any other time in history, and inevitably just as pianos had ivory keys, bows of this period mostly got ivory tips, regardless of whether they were student models or the expert-made bows with incredible properties which support musicians still today.

Importantly, these tiny parts are so small that there is no way to re-work them and turn them into more valuable objects. So, unlike hunting trophies and large antique ivory artefacts, they cannot be converted into things that support the illegal ivory trade, and they cannot be used as a way to get past restrictions and smuggle ivory that will be carved into decorative objects to support the insidious modern trade.

Alternative materials such as milk-based casein or modern plastics still have a superficial appearance of ivory, so that any bow with a white tip is ultimately subject to suspicion

By the 1970s, alternative modern materials became available, and bow makers saw the crisis looming on the horizon. Most of all, the people who worked with ivory by now were mostly small workshops or individual craftsmen living in a world where ecology and the environment went hand in hand with the values of musicians. This resulted in a voluntary moratorium across the trade of making bows with ivory parts which took effect with almost complete compliance. However, this could not address the issue of hundreds of thousands (probably millions) of tiny fingernail-sized fragments of ivory that are integral parts of older bows. Enough ivory to make the keys of a single piano would keep a bow maker in business for years.

As a violin dealer, I have some grasp of the extent of the problem and get to see it from a viewpoint that few musicians are able to. I have a realistic picture of the number of people who unwittingly own a violin bow with ivory on it, and of how many bows circulate in the ownership of musicians great and small. I understand that there will be residual problems for customs officers and other compliance authorities, because when we started to use alternative materials such as milk-based casein, or modern plastics, they still have a superficial appearance of ivory, so that any bow with a white tip is ultimately subject to suspicion, creating an untested problem when musicians seek to take their instruments across borders.

The government has already determined upon the credibility of the music industry’s claims for instruments made before 1975 with an ivory content of up to 20%. That is why they decided upon an exemption, rather than prohibiting their trade. That includes pianos, bagpipes, violin bows, bassoons as well as a variety of antique instruments that are found in museums and the incidental pieces of ivory that people decided long ago to put on the instruments they made. However, despite our campaigning, the bill that passed through Royal Assent on 20 December 2018 requires Defra to organise the licensing of individual items, in turn criminalising those who do not have the adequate paperwork.

We believe that this is a counterproductive compromise. The government agrees that our situation does nothing to support the illegal trade in ivory, and yet the proposed licensing regime risks criminalising owners of bows. We know that government and border agency resources are stretched thin, and that specific funding to fight ivory poaching will always be in short supply. We have serious reservations that the relevant agencies will be swamped by the scale of administration in issuing renewable licenses, just as customs and border agencies will be hugely burdened by policing the issue.

All of this on an enormous scale will take vital resources away from the real danger of poaching elephants and smuggling through UK ports. The mayhem that is caused for musicians will be nothing compared to the absolute danger of undermining proper efforts to combat the evil trade of smuggling poached elephant ivory into and through the UK.

By signing this petition as a UK citizen or resident, you are doing everything possible at this time to bring forward an informed parliamentary debate on the registration requirement of the 2018 Ivory Act at the critical time that Defra is working out how to put law into practice. You are also contributing to the European Union debate on an ivory ban, which (regardless of Brexit) is following the UK’s lead.

We strongly believe that a successful resolution of this part of legislation will play a crucial role in freeing up our agencies to combat ivory smuggling and help put an end to the slaughter of elephants.

Follow this link to sign the petition:

Benjamin Hebbert is a violin dealer, writer and from 2017, chairman of the British Violin Making Association In this role he is British delegate to the L’Alliance Internationale des Luthiers et Archetiers pour les Espèces Menacées / The International Alliance of Violin and Bow Makers for Endangered Species

FIM / PEARLE Guide for musicians and ensembles travelling with musical instruments containing protected species. - 5 February 2018

Accurate information is difficult to come by because of the changing situation. However, the International Federation of Musicians (FIM) and the PEARLE (Performing Arts Employers’ Associations League Europe) has produced a handbook, with support from the European Commission, which provides reliable information given the circumstances as they presently stand.

FIM / PEARLE Guide for Musicians and Ensembles Travelling with Musical Instruments Containing Protected Species>>

Watch this space. We intend to keep you informed as things progress over the coming months.

CITES and UK leaving the EU without a withdrawal deal - 16 January 2019

An urgent message from Paul Bleazard at DEFRA about possible implications of a no-deal Brexit.

Guidance which set out how people who trade in, or travel with, endangered animals or plants, or their products, would be affected if the UK leaves the EU in March 2019 without a deal is available here

We have also been reviewing where CITES goods can come into and leave the UK (points of entry and exit).

Trade in CITES goods between the UK and the EU can currently be done through any UK port or airport due to free movement within the EU. In the event of a No Deal, this will not be the case and we will designate specific ports and airports of entry and exit for the import/export of CITES goods. This designation means that you may be more restricted in the routes you can use. 

Currently there are just 10 ports and airports for CITES trade with countries outside the EU but we will increase this to 25 in the event of a No Deal scenario. 

Please see further information on the new list of CITES designated ports here:

You will note that Eurotunnel, Dover and Holyhead are not currently proposed for designation for Day 1 (29 March 2019). This is to avoid potential delays at these ports as they experience large volumes of traffic passing through and any critical blockages caused by the new checks required on CITES goods could compromise access to food and other key commodities. 

Please consider this when making arrangements for any CITES movements/trade between the UK and the EU on or after 29 March 2019. If you regularly use these routes, you may need to make alternative arrangements as there will be no facilities at these ports to get your CITES permits stamped.

We are aware that Dover and Eurotunnel are key routes for CITES trade between the UK and mainland Europe and we will be working with them and Border Force to enable future designation for handling CITES goods.

Please note that the designation of ports will be reviewed (and amended as necessary) as we gather more data post March 2019 on the actual levels of CITES trade between the UK and the EU. 

We will continue to update you on  EU Exit related developments and if you have any queries please send them to this mailbox:

BVMA Endangered Species Update by Benjamin Hebbert - 8 June 2018

Over the last year or so, British, European and International regulations on endangered species have been in the spotlight. During the last General Election, following Prince William’s public statements on elephant conservation and ivory artefacts in the Royal Collections, the UK Conservative Party made the abolition of the trade in ivory one of their manifesto pledges, meaning that they have had to organise a Parliamentary Select Committee to look at the issue.

With the sheer volume of antique ivory artefacts in circulation, compromise has been necessary and over the months ahead we are likely to have a permanent clarification on how legislation on the trade of ivory objects impacts the UK. However, the combination of overseas regulations and international obligations means that it is still difficult to provide clear and definitive information. Peter Beare has been working very hard behind the scenes on behalf of the Entente International des Luthiers et Archetiers (EILA), attending CITES meetings in Geneva in order to help advocate the position held by musicians, instrument makers and the instrument trade. EILA have contracted the help of John Bennett, a consultant who is able to navigate the processes and who understands how to put forward our views to CITES in the best way to achieve an equitable solution. There are cost implications of his work, which is important with CITES exploring the consequences of unsustainable forestry of rosewood, ebony, and even maple and spruce, and there may be a time when we need to be more active in protecting our sustainable interests within the context of larger industries endangering the materials that we depend on.

At the end of last year, as chairman of the BVMA, I contributed to the survey by the Directorate General for Environment of the European Commission on Ivory Trade in the EU; and separately to the UK Government’s ivory consultation for the Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) advising the All Party Parliamentary Group on the ivory trade. On 22 March I will be attending a DEFRA meeting in Bristol designed to give clarity to existing regulations, and will report on the outcome in the following newsletter.

It is important to state that the violin trade is unequivocally opposed to the continued hunting of elephants for ivory and the illegal trade, but we are in the unenviable situation that many bows and other small instrument components (nuts, endpins, decorative elements) were made long before there was any perceived risk to elephants becoming endangered and, as a result, the existence of minimal pieces of ivory on many of the older instruments and bows that we depend upon means that restrictions on the transportation of musical instruments is an unintended consequence of a legitimate and much-supported desire to conserve elephant species. Moreover it can be fairly well demonstrated that the inclusion of ivory within a violin bow does not significantly contribute to its value and, even with the finest bows by old master makers, value has been dictated in the main by craftsmanship. Hence modern bows made after 1981 are not worth less because of an absence of ivory and, in the extreme, a silver-faced Tourte is not viewed differently from an ivory-faced one in terms of commercial value, or relative prestige.

Accurate information is difficult to come by because of the changing situation. However, the International Federation of Musicians (FIM) and the PEARLE (Performing Arts Employers’ Associations League Europe) has produced a handbook, with support from the European Commission, which provides reliable information given the circumstances as they presently stand.

FIM / PEARLE Guide for Musicians and Ensembles Travelling with Musical Instruments Containing Protected Species>>

Watch this space. We intend to keep you informed as things progress over the coming months.

We also have some clarification on Rosewood, thanks to Peter Beare and John Bennett. At the CITES SC69 Meeting in Geneva in 2017 they worked with the authorities to amend and clarify the annotation for rosewoods so that it is possible for musicians to travel with rosewood (under 10kg per instrument, so not some marimbas or some pianos) without the need for documentation. The subsequently released CITES guidance document can be downloaded below.

CITES Notification>>

 only applies at present to non-commercial travel, so there are implications when you are buying and selling instruments abroad. However, concerned travellers should print a copy of the document to bring with them in case of any hassles at customs. The next step for Peter and John is to work on a similar annotation for the commercial sale of rosewood in instruments abroad. The decision on this will be taken in 2019. Peter reports that CITES does seem to believe that the current regulations are excessive in their scope and there is a willingness to untangle the issues. With some common sense, they seem to have worked on a policy of imposing a blanket ban in the first place with an interest in allowing legitimate exceptions to state their case. Until a decision is made, any sales across borders will require permits. CITES licenses are available in the UK from the government's Animal and Plant Health Agency

It cannot be restated strongly enough, that the violin community worldwide, as makers, dealers and musicians unequivocally supports measures that will protect endangered plants and animals.