Owning a Piano With Ivory Keys – What You should Know

Owning a Piano With Ivory Keys – What You should Know

Tickle the ivories. It’s long been a phrase that refers to playing the piano, with possible roots referring to the fact that piano keys were once solely veneered with ivory

Of course, the use of ivory is no longer an acceptable practice. In fact, it’s illegal to sell anything made from ivory. 

That opens up a host of other questions about what happens if you have a piano with ivory keys. What do you do with it? Can you move it? Can you sell it? 

Until the 1940s, pianos were often constructed with an ivory veneer used to top the white piano keys. The key itself was created using wood, topped with a thin layer of ivory to give it fluidity. It didn’t require very much ivory – the top layer is paper-thin. That also means these coverings are prone to cracking, chipping, peeling, and flaking. You might also find they yellow pretty bad. 

The advantage of using plastic for the keys is they stay their true color, and hold up well, no matter how much playtime they receive.  

But if you have ivory piano keys on an antique or heirloom piano, what do you do? 

Selling this thin veneer ivory would be a waste of time. It’s such a small quantity, it wouldn’t have value. Plus, it’s illegal. Try to put up an ad with a piano with ivory keys, and it will be deleted as fast as you put it up on eBay or Craigslist. Try and move it with a professional moving company across some state lines, or to another country somewhere in the world, and you’ll receive another steadfast “no.” 

It’s a very small source of ivory, but it comes with a big problem. 

Some piano tuners, retailers, or restorers will buy out old pianos with ivory still in place. They save the keys for restoration projects where it’s important to keep the piano in original condition. Special consideration is given for this type of restoration. But even this has laws in place to ensure it isn’t overly used. 

Have additional questions about ivory piano keys? We’re here to help you find the answers you need. Give us a call today.