In the current issue of the AMICA Bulletin there is a news item about
a most embarrassing and aggravating incident in which a recording artist
with his 1827 Fortepiano was denied entry to Canada from the USA at
Niagara Falls, for a contractual recording in the Glenn Gould Studio in
Toronto. It seems the instrument has key tops made of ivory, a product
coming under the prohibited international trade list of endangered
This 1973 International Agreement, known as CITES (The Convention on
International Trade in Endangered Species) was signed by a large number
of nations worldwide, including Canada and the USA. This CITES
agreement has been referenced a number of times of MMD, but some
appalling circumstances have emerged which should be known by all who
are considering movement of pianos across international borders,
particularly into the USA.
The CITES Agreement was signed in 1973, and it contained a provision to
exempt products and species "worked" prior to 1973. For that exemption
to apply for customs purposes, a Pre-Convention Certificate must be
issued by the nation of export. The spirit and intent of the original
agreement was that all nations should deal with its provisions in a
consistent manner. It hasn't worked out that way.
Canada will accept a Pre-Convention Certificate of the item being
imported into Canada from any of the signatory countries regardless of
the date of manufacture prior to 1973. That 1827 Fortepiano did not
have a Pre-Convention Certificate, which would have taken about three
months to acquire from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services in Washington.
Something ominous has emerged. The US has somehow translated this
principle (pre-1973) into "antiques" only. An "antique" must be 100
years of age to be imported into the U.S. free of duty, taxes and CITES
impediments. Suddenly we have a gap from the year 1900 through to 1973
that seems to have emerged only in the USA. My research suggests that
most nations, except the USA, deal with this issue in a manner similar
I have been told in harsh terms by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services
inspector in North Dakota that he will seize any product containing
natural ivory, and the trailer it's in and the truck hauling it, no
different than if it were drugs, regardless of the presence of a Canada
issued Pre-Convention Certificate, if it is not an "antique".
According to the regulations posted on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife
Services web site, he's right. Only antiques are exempt. That a piano
may have been originally manufactured in the USA in the first place,
and is simply being returned to country of origin, with no value added,
is of no relevance to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services folks.
Somehow, the process in the US of translating the principle behind a
Pre-Convention Certificate into working administration and enforcement
consistent with all other nations got translated into "antiques" only,
without regards to the pre-1973 spirit and intent of the CITES
What makes this further aggravating is that the Canadian issuer of the
Pre-Convention Certificate is obligated to forward a copy of it to the
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services Administration. So, even if an inspector
does not actually get involved in the actual border crossing, the copy
of the certificate will be seen and provoke an order to the nearest
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services inspector to seize the piano long after
its arrival in the USA, and likely fine the owner for "illegal trade
in endangered species or parts thereof".
I spoke with a commercial customs broker in Pembina, ND, who almost
immediately observed that, "I guess by now you have learned there is
absolutely no consistency with regards to documentation requirements,
with far too much resting on the whim and call of the customs officer
on duty at a particular moment of time."
After some 35+ years in this delightful avocation, I decided time has
come to dispose of my surplus unrestored instruments. Three of them
have been sold to US citizens. Of those, two were picked up by a buyer
who decided to take his chances without a Pre-Convention Certificate.
He came up to Canada in a borrowed truck towing a borrowed trailer and
re-entered the USA completely trouble free, with only the usual private
documentation, Bill of Sale, Proof of Age, Proof of US Origin.
Fortunately, he did not have to far to travel.
The third piano is a rare 1919 Bradbury Atrio-Angelus with original
ivory key tops, all yellowed, but all in pristine physical condition.
The problem with CITES could be resolved if I remove the ivory key
tops, but that would be shameful.
Can anybody suggest how one might go about getting the U.S. Fish &
Wildlife Services regulations amended to bring them into alignment
with the rest of the world? Or is this tilting at windmills?
Winnipeg, MB, Canada