Protect Musical Instruments from Harmful Export Restrictions

April 19, 2007 at 02:16 AM · I received this from a bowmaker friend of mine - with a plea for all musicians, makers, and lovers of music to please take action. I thought I'd post here. The text below comes from the president of the International Pernambuco Conservation Initiative.

"Brazil has proposed that pernambuco be listed on Appendix II of CITES (Conference on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna) including all parts and derivatives. This means that all finished bows, all pernambuco bows ever made, could be required to have documentation to cross international borders. This could have a devastating impact on traveling musicians and touring orchestras."

To take action go here:

And please alert your friends and fellow players to this problem.


Cecily (I like my graphite bow... but I like my Tourte & Tubbs much more)

Replies (20)

April 20, 2007 at 01:46 AM · Wouldn't documentation be possible to obtain? I've gotten documentation from customs for numerous formerly imported items I've taken overseas and back.

I suspect the intent is to protect pernambuco, not to specifically annoy musicians. Of course, I may be incorrect, and the intent is to eliminate musicians from international touring, starting with bowed string players. Although I doubt it.

Perhaps the goal is to preserve the resource by reducing trade in illegally exported pernambuco via the mechanism of documentation. Preserving the resource might ultimately help the resource provide fine bows for the future.

Anyway, that's how I read it. I suppose one might prefer unmitigated plunder.

Given that CITIES is intended to regulate international trade in at-risk species, and that pernambuco seems widely cited as at risk, I have a hard time with organized attempts to thwart its implementation if appropriate.

So. Why would CITIES listing be inappropriate for pernambuco?

If risk to the species exists, does an alternative regulatory or other system exist that would protect it?

If risk to the species exists, is the weight of a piece of paper for each bow too much to carry to protect the species?

April 20, 2007 at 06:03 AM · I always feared some customs guy looking at my tortoiseshell bow and breaking it or something draconian like that. So I sold it...

April 20, 2007 at 07:59 AM · "What officer, I can't afford pernambuco! That's Brazilwood, much cheaper!"

April 20, 2007 at 08:16 AM · Their "alerts" read like anything to benefit your local music store at any cost. To hell with the rest of society and nature :)

April 20, 2007 at 08:26 AM · I'm not a very good environmentalist. My violin's tailpiece, chinrest, and pegs are pernambuco wood!

April 20, 2007 at 03:33 PM · Here's a few answers to questions raised in this discussion.

Wouldn't documentation be possible to obtain?

It would be up to each country to decide what proper documentation for each bow would be. This could potentially means as little as one form to fill out per bow (in a dream world). Sounds easy enough, but look at the Minnesota Orchestra's tour last summer, with an itinerary of Amsterdam, London, Edinburgh, Helsinki and Locarno (Switzerland). So that's into the EU, out of the EU into the UK, out of the UK into the EU, out of the EU into Switzerland, return to the US. That's five border crossings, times two registrations per border crossing(there will probably be paper to fill out going in and coming out, as well as an inspection by someone who's never seen a bow up close before), times, let's say, three bows per musician, times 59 string members in that orchestra. That's 1770 pieces of red tape for some orchestra manager to figure out. But the bigger problem is what if your bow is unstamped? Will you run into a customs inspector who's going to question your unstamped PECCATTE? Can we really expect countries to train their border guards to know how one bow is different from another?

"Perhaps the goal is to preserve the resource by reducing trade in illegally exported pernambuco via the mechanism of documentation. Preserving the resource might ultimately help the resource provide fine bows for the future. "

Yes, the intent is to preserve the resource, but a better way to do this is to restrict the flow of pernambuco in the form of lumber, not finished bows. 7 years ago, a group was formed called the International Pernambuco Conservation Initiative (IPCI). In seven short years, this group has set up research projects to study genetic diversiy, distributed around 100,000 seedlings, funded wells for nonprofit pernambuco propogation plantations, and many other programs. Learn more about them at IPCI-USA.ORG

"If risk to the species exists, does an alternative regulatory or other system exist that would protect it?"

Again, regulating the international trade of raw materials would be a better step. Relatively little commercial bowmaking is done in Brazil itself, most is Asia.

"I'm not a very good environmentalist. My violin's tailpiece, chinrest, and pegs are pernambuco wood!"

Become a better environmentalist by learning more about the IPCI!


April 20, 2007 at 04:08 PM · Oh, and one other thing. The "little piece of paper" you'll need to cross borders will probably have to be issued by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, who are responsible for regulating ivory, tortoiseshell, etc. They would presumably want to see the bow to be certified, perhaps want to see your receipt of purchase to prove it wasn't made after the ban took place. So this might involve a trip to your closest Fish and Wildlife Service regional office.

April 20, 2007 at 06:13 PM · I think we had better pay attention to Matt's concerns - I am very pro-environment, but the regulations have to make sense as well. I responded to the "Managment Authority" with a letter to that effect for whatever good it may do.

April 20, 2007 at 06:15 PM · Anybody remember that story from last year or so, when a couple of rare, extremely fine bows (a Tourte I think, and maybe a Sartory) were confiscated and destroyed because they had tortoiseshell frogs?! I've got nothing against saving the environment (frankly, I think we need to do everything we can to keep pernambuco from going extinct, because we need it to make bows!!), I just wish there could be some common sense involved in all the bureaucracy.

April 20, 2007 at 07:33 PM · If it applied only to lumber, bowmaking in the countries of origin (Brazil?) would ramp up to meet the demand.

April 20, 2007 at 11:18 PM · There, that's the kind of detail that makes sense of the concern. I've only had to get one piece of paper that worked everywhere for other things.

As far as dragging tortoise shell across international boundaries - one can expect trouble doing that type of thing.

One of the problems I can see in regulating lumber is that it is lumber. If I have 2 dozen pernambuco boards in Brazil, I imagine I can buy a bunch of fancy pillows, make crates for them from my boards, and export them without trouble.

Difficulties everywhere.

As far as regulating only lumber, wouldn't that be like regulating only raw ivory?

April 20, 2007 at 11:40 PM · I think they only destroyed the frogs, which is still an absolute tragedy (and a massive financial loss, at least in terms of the Peccatte), but at least the sticks are intact.

April 20, 2007 at 11:50 PM · The big, dramatic thing here is that there would be no new bows made of pernambuco. I don't know why else you'd require papers. I assume they're to show it was made before a specified date.

April 21, 2007 at 12:07 AM · Destroying the frogs was still massively stupid though--for heaven's sake, the bows were what, 100 years old? 150? And it's not like ruining the bows would bring the tortoise back to life.

April 21, 2007 at 12:21 AM · Can someone please cite a reference to the tortoiseshell frogs' destruction?

April 21, 2007 at 01:44 AM · Why would there be no new pernambuco bows? I missed that. Wouldn't one simply need documented pre-ban or new growth wood?

April 21, 2007 at 03:41 AM · You might be right. I was thinking of the situation with some other woods on the cites list, but it looks like the website is talking about permits being required for new items. Who knows? :)

P.S. A little bit of googling came of with this from George Gruhn's site. "A proposal currently being considered by the board of CITES...would make it virtually impossible for violinists to legally take their bows across international borders."

April 21, 2007 at 06:25 AM · Well, the Sartory probably wasn't 100 years old... he was making in the 00s until the 30s (if I remember correctly).

April 21, 2007 at 12:40 PM · The only people that can help on this matter is the American Federation of Musicians as they belong to the AFLCIO and politically that is a very strong organization. Politicians will be very careful not to upset the AFLCIO. Otherwise do not expect burocrats to care.

April 21, 2007 at 02:16 PM · Hi,

The laws are complicated. Regarding bows - the law proposes a ban date. Bows would have to be certified as having been made before that date (new wood or not does not matter). Certifying bows that are unstamped will prove a major problem at border crossings no matter how much paperwork exists as the people involved in the surveillance certainly will not be experts - just run of the mill border crossing guards.

I don't recall anything about the tutoiseshell incidents mentioned, so can someone comment on where this info is from?

There are other woods to make bows from other than pernambuco, like ironwood, amourette or even snakewood. Great bow makers of the first half of the 19th century did experiment with other woods and, for example, there are some great examples of bows by Pajeot that are made from amourette.

The demise of the pernambuco tree is also due in large part to the practices of deforestation used in Brazil for growing crops for major agricultural companies.

Oh well, lets see what happens...


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