Are pianos made out of elephants? The Myth & Truth

Are piano keys made out of elephant tusks?

Pianos are believed to have come into use almost 300 years ago. The first designs of this musical instrument featured playing keys molded out of solid wood. As the designs became more graceful and elegant, piano makers switched to using ivory. This material is made from elephant tusks and soon became a preferred alternative to wood. It provided a sleek design that gave the piano a polished appearance while maintaining a high level of durability and texture.

The global ban on the trade of ivory was initiated to prevent the unjust poaching of animals for their valuable tusks. Many countries around the world have deemed any form of ivory trade illegal. This policy has significantly affected ivory from elephant tusks not being chosen as the material to make piano keys.

What is elephant ivory?

Elephant ivory is collected from their tusks. This part of an elephant’s body has a global trade market that has caused millions of elephants’ deaths. International trade Ivory tusks are significant in size. These are the elephant’s teeth and can be seen protruding beyond an elephant’s mouth. The tusks are deeply rooted and mainly formed from dentine. This substance is highly durable because it is a complex, dense, bony tissue. The tusks are protected by naturally produced enamel. 

Elephant ivory became famous worldwide because it was viewed as a status symbol. Ancient jewelers and designers would use these tusks to produce ornaments, figurines, and small carvings. The material was then adopted to make high-quality piano keys and chess sets. Elephant ivory is also believed to have healing qualities. This product is sometimes bought and sold as a healing element. It is rumored to cure a variety of illnesses. At the start of the 21st century, ivory was stored as currency. The public saw this commodity as an inflation-proof investment. The pressure has since reduced for this material as a value holder due to trade restrictions.

Elephant ivory is illegal to buy and sell. In 1989, the international sale of this material was declared illegal at the Convention on International Trade in Endangers Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Some countries refused to participate in this embargo and continued to trade domestically. The United States, France, the United Kingdom, and China are some of the countries that have passed stricter laws on the ivory trade. According to EU regulations, when used for antique ivory, the goods can be traded. Activists have argued that this product is also being illegally sold under this exemption. The process of trading ivory is dangerous and often leads to numerous consumer and enforcement confusion cases.   

Elephant ivory was very popular in Asia until it was banned in 1975. These government administrations took this policy move as the Asian elephant had been placed on the endangered species list. Due to the ever-declining numbers of elephants, a global treaty was signed in 1990 that declared all kinds of elephant ivory illegal to trade.

Can you sell a piano with ivory keys?

The sale of pianos with ivory keys is illegal in most countries worldwide. No exception allows holders to sell old ivory piano keys legally. The sale of this material was made illegal in 1975. Therefore, any ivory key pianos sold must be accompanied by the original pre-1973 instrument they are taken from. The seller will need to prove that the piano was not built after the manufacture was made illegal. This process of verification is done to ivory keys through piano technicians. These individuals are known for storing pianos for future historic restoration. Ivory is a naturally occurring material. This factor means that it is rare to find identical pieces of ivory. Old pianos made from ivory are challenging to use for historically accurate restorations. To sell the piano, you can use these technicians to accurately color-match new plastic keys and keep the piano’s beauty untouched.

Ivory piano keys for sale

It is a criminal offense to sell and buy ivory piano keys. This law was introduced to most of the world in 1973-1975. Depending on your country, selling pianos made after this period is likely illegal. Ivory piano keys for sale should be given to a piano technician who can safely store them for historic restoration. 

What are piano keys made of

Piano manufacturing has become advanced in recent years. The production of piano keys is now mainly done through the use of plastic or hardwood. These materials are familiar to modern pianos, which have longer white keys. These types of keys are hollow inside and have a thin layer of plastic at the summit of the key. The top surface of these white keys, where the pianist would press, is layered to provide a better grip. 

White Keys

The types of plastic employed by piano makers to create these designs often vary. Each type of material gives a different ‘feel’ to the pianist. Choosing the appropriate material is vital in getting the most appropriate piano for your goals. Plastic is typically advantageous because it is hard-wearing, replaceable, affordable, and considerably more ethical to manufacture for piano makers. Some keys are made from ‘vegetable ivory,’ harvested from the tagua nut, which is found mainly in South America and Africa. 

Black Keys

This part of the piano is often made with plastic or resin. For the premium piano options on the market, you can find black keys made from higher-end ebony wood. Ebony is an expensive wood, but it is natural. Environmentally conscious consumers will likely prefer this to any artificial alternatives. The wood is durable, aesthetically pleasing, and easy to use in manufacturing/maintenance. These keys are designed for the modern pianist who desires a comfortable and attractive playing keyboard that can provide longevity.

Are piano keys made of ebony?

Pianos began to be mass-produced from wood in the 1940s. The common materials used were wood, plastic, ebony, and resin. The white keys on a piano are made from various materials; however, the black keys of a piano are commonly made from ebony.

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