Ivory bow tip and US customs

October 25, 2017, 3:33 AM · I will be flying to the US for some chamber music concerts at and around Harvard soon. We have ordered an extra seat for the cello and have been assured that oboe, violin and viola is OK to bring as carry on. But I have heard horror stories of people being stopped in customs because of the ivory tip on their bow. I have a very nize Heinz Dölling bow that I do not want to have confiscated! Is there any truth in those stories? Should I be worried? I am not quite sure how old the bow is - but I bought it about 30 years ago. Could a local luthier here write some sort of statement regarding the age of the bow that US customs would accept?

Replies (41)

October 25, 2017, 4:40 AM · Hi.
I don't have experience travelling with instruments, but my job is about certification for imports and exports.
If the law is applied (always subject to the customs people), your luthier statement is NOT enough. You need a CITES certificate for ivory pieces and the bow ivory tip is especifically included.
You must get the CITES certificate from your residence country. The list of CITES offices is here: https://www.cites.org/cms/index.php/component/cp

I recommend you that you get that certificate. It becomes some kind of passport for your bow in the future. However for this incoming trip, be aware that the whole process might take time. 45 days or more, depending on the local administration, and that during the process you will be required documents that may take time to get (such as the aforementioned assesment of a professional recognized by CITES) or the original invoice.

October 25, 2017, 4:43 AM · http://www.violinist.com/blog/laurie/20166/19557/

Print out and bring as many documents as you can that support your claim. Don't provide any information until your asked to.

October 25, 2017, 5:10 AM · Do you have a bow without ivory? If not, and you travel much, consider whether it might be worth getting one.
October 25, 2017, 5:29 AM · I had the ivory tip on my Voirin replaced with a synthetic (the original tip was cracked anyway so this was not a big deal) and got a written statement from the bow repairman.
October 25, 2017, 7:44 AM · Thank you for your suggestions.
I have other bows, but none is close to the quality of the Dölling and I would hate to have to use one of them for these concerts. The only other bow I could use also has ivory - I think.
I have been wanting to get a good carbon fiber bow for some time and based on reviews here and elsewhere decided for the Jon Paul Carrera. Ideally I would want to test it against other options and also test different individual Carreras, but there are no dealers i Sweden and the dealer I managed to find in UK has been out of stock until this week. So I have one in the mail from UK right now. I have the option to return it if I don't like it. I am hoping it will be acceptable and in that case I will bring only that. And for the future I have to think about getting the CITES certificate or a synthetic tip :-(
October 25, 2017, 9:42 AM · I have a bow with a silver tip for this very purpose.

I did once encounter resistance for a bow that looked like it have an ivory tip, and I never want to go through that again. Customs can be quite rude about these things.

October 25, 2017, 11:11 AM · My new Emmanuel Bégin bow has a silver tip -- same reasons.
Edited: October 25, 2017, 12:32 PM · If you have an original ivory tip in good condition on a collector-quality bow, I'd think twice about replacing it. Might be necessary at some point in the future, but I wouldn't be in a hurry to do it. Better, I think, to buy a bow with an original alternate-material tip to tide you over until things shake out.
Edited: October 25, 2017, 2:13 PM · They used mastadon on my Charles Peccatte instead of ivory.I whapped it on a music stand last April and broke the ivory and a part of the ebony.Luckily not the stick itself.
October 26, 2017, 6:44 AM · Carlos is right, you absolutely want to have a CITES certificate with you if you're bringing in any ivory. I'm planning to travel to Canada and back with a violin next year to play at an event. Personally, I'll be taking my CodaBow so I can avoid any potential issues while crossing the border in either direction.
Edited: October 26, 2017, 7:03 AM · Your quickest and cheapest solution would be to replace the tip on your good bow with synthetic. If you plan on travelling again in the future this is the way things are in the 21st century, better get used to it as much as you may dislike it, you'll dislike the customs agent ineptly carving off your ivory tip a lot less than just replacing the tip, plus if your near a luthier it shouldn't take long to do. It will not effect the tone or playability of your bow in any way that I know of.
October 26, 2017, 7:05 AM · As to original ivory adding to the value of a bow, that's a thing of the past, any kind of Ivory tip is a liability today, unless you plan never to have it leave your country. If you wan't to sell it, you would be limited to customers in your own country, so as I said its really a liability now, not like it used to be.
October 26, 2017, 7:29 AM · Would I have to change the tortoise shell frog as well?
October 26, 2017, 7:44 AM · The problem with silver tip is that it weighs more, no? Can you just swap out materials like that?

Oh no ... if your frog is tortoise shell too then you really are going bow-shopping, I'm afraid.

October 26, 2017, 8:00 AM · No way you're going to get a tortoise shell frog through customs, not going to happen.
October 26, 2017, 8:40 AM · Its not that you might get it through with a proper Cites certificate, its the custom agents that might not believe you that might just go ahead and confiscate your frog, no recourse.
Edited: October 26, 2017, 9:12 AM · A Mastadon tip will do the job in most places, but not all.

One issue with mastadon ivory is that it can so closely resemble elephant ivory, that most border agents may not be able to tell the difference.

There may be some exceptions on the horizon for musical instruments, or items containing less than a certain quantity of elephant ivory, but I don't think those are firmly in place yet.

So I don't think I'd swap out an existing ORIGINAL tip in good condition just yet. Having an original tip can enhance the value of a collector bow.

Edited: October 26, 2017, 9:48 AM · Bo, it's not uncommon to have an ebony frog made to replace one of tortoise shell. An ebony frog holds up much better to wear and tear anyway, and allows putting the tortoise shell frog away for safe keeping, and keeping in pristine condition.

The high-end bow market isn't nearly as tolerant of damage, wear and repair as the violin market is. That's one reason you almost never see bow makers making "antiqued" bows. Different set of standards.

Edited: October 26, 2017, 11:29 AM · I talked to my repairman and he also uses veal bone for tips.He says it looks somewhat translucent and doesn't have the texture of ivory but complies with the law.Veal bone,according to my repairman should be easy enough to identify at the border.
David, is it easy to recognize if a bow has its original ivory tip? What if the bow is from the late nineteenth century but had a new tip put on in the early twentieth.How can one tell an original from a replacement?
October 26, 2017, 12:03 PM · Lyndon: "replace the tip on your good bow with synthetic. (...) It will not effect the tone or playability of your bow"

Are you sure? Synthetic, that means plastic. How can it not result in a plastic'y tonal quality to the sound? Maybe not as bad as a whole bow out of 'carbon' plastic, but still, it's no longer pure natural materials.


October 26, 2017, 5:35 PM · There is the time Zimbalist took his bow to Morel because the "tone" of the bow had deteriorated. Morel took it back into his shop and brought it out in 5 minutes. Zimbalist played a few scales and beamed, "You fixed it! But how?" Morel replied that he only oiled the screw.
October 27, 2017, 6:17 AM · Peter, I don't think I have a very good way of answering your question.
Sometimes with a replacement tip, there will obvious discontinuities between the lines or style of the head and that of the tip, or problems with the fit.

Other times, recognizing a replacement tip requires a high level of experience and familiarity with the original work of the maker.

As an example: You would easily be able distinguish your mother from one hundred thousand other people. But having someone else be able to pick her out of that group from a descriptions alone might be impossible.

Sorry, that's about all I can come up with right now.

October 27, 2017, 8:40 AM · Thanks David.
October 31, 2017, 2:04 PM · I have been tracking my Carrera shipment the past week, and it seemed to be stuck once it arrived in Sweden. So I borrowed a friends Codabow Diamond GX to bring to the US to be on the safe side. And then just because of that the Carrera turned up! The Carrera is somewhat softer than both the Codabow and my pernambuco bow. It handles quite well - better than the Codabow and the sound I think is also better than the Codabow. When ordering the dealer had two bows - one with ebony frog and one with horn frog. I ordered ebony. It now turns out that the bow with ebony frog is the "flexible" model and the one with horn frog is "firm".
So now I wonder if I should order the other bow as well to test them side by side and then return one of the. I will cost me 50-100 USD in shipping cost and off course I may well end up liking the one I have now the best.
Did anyone here try both models? How different are they?
I will play with the flexible bow on our tour and decide whether to keep it or not afterwards (This is by agreement with the dealer).
November 3, 2017, 5:14 AM · Arrived in Boston yesterday. The customs had absolutely no interest in looking at my bows. And we had no issues with bringing the instruments as carry on. Flights operated by KLM and Delta.
November 3, 2017, 5:34 AM · @Bo congrats! I was stopped by TSA for having a steel tip for some reason, but nice
November 6, 2017, 3:10 AM · Old and new bows give you different feel and sound. I still can't find a modern bow that give the same experience as playing a tourte. Generally speaking, I find good older bows tend to be warmer, thicker in tone and have less edgy sound than good contemporary bows.
November 6, 2017, 5:58 AM · I agree Thaneadpol. I just used a Michael Vann bow yesterday and although it was lively and very "springy" it just didn't pull out the "meaty" sound of my fiddle.it was a lovely bow though.
Another player in my orchestra has a Charles Espey that is fantastic but pulls out a "green" sound compared to an old bow.It must have something to do with the wood drying out over time I guess.
November 7, 2017, 1:30 AM · Try playing the new and old bows blind or double-blind, and see if your opinions remain the same.
November 7, 2017, 1:59 AM · Try driving your muscle car blind and see if you can make any valid conclusions!!
November 7, 2017, 3:20 AM · I think it's worth it to have the other model shipped and compared. Maybe with the same shipping cost you can order other carbon fiber bows to try out - the more the merrier.

I do know quite a few pros here that play a JonPaul Carrera. Not sure which model they use though.

November 7, 2017, 3:32 AM · Lyndon, what you have suggested is unsafe and against the law. ;-)
November 7, 2017, 4:14 AM · Well you seem to think that decisions are best made blindfolded!
November 7, 2017, 5:00 AM · Ill give it a try...
Edited: November 7, 2017, 5:39 AM · Lyndon, that would obviously depend on the sort of decision, and the circumstances, wouldn't it?

I don't think I would choose a paint color "blind", unless I were trying to determine how hot it feels when exposed to solar radiation. ;-)

November 7, 2017, 5:52 AM · Lyndon and David, I can't tell whether you guys are seriously having this discussion or just making fun of yourselves! After the "Paris" megathread nothing surprises me anymore.
November 7, 2017, 6:04 AM · I'm blindfolded right now, its all coming clear to me now!!
Edited: November 7, 2017, 6:58 AM · Han, I was seriously suggesting that the bows be tried "blind", to see if any different opinions emerge. Always useful as a part of the selection process, in my opinion.

Lyndon is just exhibiting his usual pattern of resistance to this type of testing (which often fails to support his agenda), and acting like a jerk.

November 7, 2017, 6:27 AM · I can't see right now, but I appreciate David's contributions more when I'm blindfolded, it really works.
November 7, 2017, 10:34 AM · One might note, Thaneadpol Burapaskul, that I also haven't run into non-Tourte antique bows that sound like Tourtes, either. :-)
November 7, 2017, 8:13 PM · @Kan Pai: good idea. If I do order the firm version I will have to make a return shipment anyway. So I should order some of the other Jon Paul bows as well and perhaps a codabow.

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