Worries about bone frogs through US Customes

August 2, 2017, 5:26 AM · I have been using a German/Czechoslovakian bow with a cow bone frog for all my classical repertories, and I like the aesthetics of the bone frog very much. But lately, I have been hearing stories about violinists getting their bows confiscated while passing through U.S.Customs, even if the fittings on the bow are made of bone and not ivory.

Is there a way I can get my bows through customs other than changing the frog? Will a certificate clarifying that the bow is ivory-free from a luthier do?

I know that fittings of these kinds have practically no impact on the acoustics or handling qualities of the bow, but I like the aesthetics of those white accents so very much that I would much prefer not changing the bone fittings if not absulutely nessasary.

Replies (9)

August 2, 2017, 5:34 AM · A certificate should do in most circumstances, should they even ask. A good thing to do would be to have two copies - one on your person and one with the item in question.

You are more likely to have issues trying to sell the item across a border than carrying it, however. The risk with shipping it is that customs will seize it during a random check, and countries laws on import/export of biological matter vary.

August 2, 2017, 6:07 AM · Experience has shown you have no idea what some idiot customs agent is going to do, and yes they may well have trouble telling the difference between bone and ivory. Not sure a letter from a luthier is going to help, either, best bet is to take a different bow on your trip, unless you are actually moving countries, then you have to risk it.
August 2, 2017, 10:00 AM · I agree with Lyndon.

IMO, custom agents aren't hired because of their intelligence, but rather their ability to do a dull job on low pay. On occasion they get to assert their "power" by enforcing a rule they don't really understand.

Cheers Carlo

August 3, 2017, 5:58 AM · Thank you, Michael, for replying,

yes, that was my initial plan, to have two copies of the documents. But I am still quite worried if the customs agents will recognize the authority and validity of the certificate, since Lyndon and Carlo have both specified that the agents do not have the skill or know how to deal with these situations.

August 3, 2017, 6:20 AM · Thank you, Lyndon and Carlo, for your replies,

I have heard quite a lot of disturbing scandals regarding the U.S. customs, so I'll have to agree with you that some customs agents are not the most agreeable of people. However, since I'll go to the US for my undergraduate, and will probably move there, I will have to bring this bow sooner or later. So I really wonder if there is a "safe" way to bring my bow in.

August 3, 2017, 3:04 PM · I don't travel now. However, I do know that US Customs agents can be brutal. As I know many people in the musical community who do travel internationally, be extremely careful about what you bring in. If it is essential to bring this particular bow to the USA then hire an import-export agent who will work with customs. However, expect a hassle as nobody can tell the difference between Ivory and Bovine Bone.

FWIW: About a year ago a customs agent destroyed a dozen hand made wood flutes that were contemporary, not made of exotic woods, but the customs agent determined that they were all made from protected species of trees and then hammered away as the maker/musician cried.

If I were a professional traveling internationally, I'd arrange for the loan of an instrument and bow from the symphony/organization where I'm scheduled to play.

As I said, I no longer travel for various reasons - airport staff being the first reason.

August 3, 2017, 4:15 PM · Get the proper CITES paperwork for it if you plan to travel over international borders with it.

I bring my carbon-fiber bow on trips now and leave the nice one at home.

Edited: August 9, 2017, 4:35 PM · I've heard of tree frogs but not bone frogs. Do they live in Pernambuco trees?
August 9, 2017, 12:38 PM · Paul,
Ah yes, they live in Pernambuco trees in the Tourte forest, right next to Pfretzschner County. ;)

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