Piano Restoration: What If My Piano Has Ivory Keys?

Piano Restoration: What If My Piano Has Ivory Keys?

I’ve been contemplating piano restoration for a long time now. I have an antique piano dating back to my grandmother. The problem is I know it has ivory keys. If I bring it in for restoration, what will happen to the ivory? I know ivory isn’t used anymore, but I would like my piano to remain as original as possible.

We get questions like this all the time. And the topic of ivory keys is a hot topic when it comes to pianos.

First of all, lets talk about ivory and how you can tell if its real.

As a part of the endangered species act, buying or selling ivory is illegal. Ivory comes from the tusks of elephants or in some cases walrus, and is taken in illegal, and often brutal ways.

Most pianos made up until 1956 used a thin covering ivory veneer over the top of the wooden key. Keys are not solid ivory.

Pianos built after this time will not have ivory on them.

To tell if your keys are made from real ivory, you can perform a simple test. Heat a needle with a flame from a lighter or candle. Stick the heated end into the key. If it melts into the key, its plastic; if it doesn’t go in, its ivory.piano-restoration-what-if-my-piano-has-ivory-keys

Ivory keys are almost always made up of the front, the head and the tail. If you shine a light at an angle across the keys, you will see a thin parting seam between the head and the tail with a wood-like grain to it. Ivory becomes rough when soiled, which suits many pianists because they don’t like to play on slippery keys.

If you have ivory keys, they really don’t have much value because of the legality issues. If your piano has ivory keys, it is important that you have CITES paperwork that proves what type of animal and scientific name of the animal used, as well as age, what date and what manufacturer was used in production. You can request a permit directly from the US Fish and Game Department if you plan on selling, or will be moving across state lines. If you can’t prove it, your piano could face a fine or confiscation by the US Fish and Game Department.

If you are debating about the best way to approach restoration, you have two options. If your keys are in good shape and you have the proper paperwork, they can remain intact. If they need to be replaced, we can replace them with simulated ivory or plastic key covers that provide you with a new look and feel to your treasured piano.

Have more questions? We would be happy to answer all of them, and show you how your antique piano can become a beautiful addition to your home once more.

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