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Ban On Ivory Sales Threatens Vintage Market

...that the new rule will effectively render illegal all vintage guitars and firearms that contain ivory.

Interior Department Director Daniel M. Ashe says that the sweeping rule was enacted to “curb the international market in ivory” and that it is “the best way to help ensure that U.S. markets do not contribute to the further decline of African elephants in the wild.” It prohibits the import or export of any raw or reworked ivory, which would effectively prohibit the sale of thousands of pre-1970 guitars that included an ivory nut, bridge saddle, or bridge pins. Instruments over 100 years old would be excluded from the ban under an “antiques” provision, but owners would be responsible for documenting the age of their instruments.

For decades, the U.S. banned the commercial importation of African elephant ivory other than antique items more than 100 years old, but domestic sales were allowed. Now, the Fish and Wildlife Service plans to revoke the regulatory exception allowing for commerce in lawfully imported ivory within the U.S. The order “prohibits sales within a state unless the seller can demonstrate an item was lawfully imported prior to 1990 for African elephants and 1975 for Asian elephants, or under an exemption document.”

Vintage expert George Gruhn of Gruhn Guitars in Nashville expressed sympathy with the objectives of the order but said, “Unfortunately, banning the trade in vintage guitars, violin bows, or other musical instruments will do nothing to help restore elephant populations.” He added, “These vintage instruments are a vital part of the world’s musical culture, and treating them like illegal drugs is wrong. At a minimum, order should be amended to exclude instruments produced before the ban.”

In a communication to its 3.1 million members, the National Rifle Association noted, “Ivory has been used in gun making for centuries. Custom handguns—such as General George S. Patton’s famous revolvers—are also often fitted with ivory grips. Sale of all of those items could be banned if the Obama administration’s proposal goes into effect.”

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