How To Tell If Piano Keys Are Ivory?

If playing the piano is something you are interested in or if it is something you already do then this article will prove very useful for you.

For many students learning piano chances are they will be using a piano with keys made of plastic.

After all, not everyone can afford a top of the line, expensive, piano with ivory keys.

But what if you do have a top of the line piano?

Sure, it may sound great, and look superb (whilst also taking up a ton of space), but how can you be sure that the piano keys are made from ivory like you think they are?

More to the point, with the ivory trade being a definite symbol of cruelty, why still then are piano keys made from the tusks of these magnificent creatures?

It’s mainly due to the aesthetic quality of ivory and because it can absorb perspiration from your fingers.

Ivory keys also mean that your fingers are less likely to slip whilst playing.

This is something that plastic keys are guilty of.

So how can you tell if your piano has ivory keys or not?

That’s what this article will discuss.

Perform the Needle Test

ivory keys or plastic keys - what's the difference, which one is better

There has only been one reliable test for determining if your piano keys are made from ivory.

This test is known to give results, but it can damage your keys slightly.

It’s best avoided if you don’t want to scratch your keys.

To perform this test, you need a needle with a very fine point.

You then place the tip over a flame until it glows red hot.

After that, you press it gently against the piano key.

When you do, make sure you use a spot that is the least visible.

If this test melts or makes a tiny hole in the key, then it’s made from plastic.

Ivory is tough and heat resistant and does not melt.

Use a Magnifying Glass

how to determine if your piano has ivory keys

Did you know that each ivory piano key is made from three separate pieces?

Two pieces form the top layer of the key.

This is the layer your fingers touch as you play.

The last piece makes the front edge of the key.

When you examine the top layer with a magnifying glass you should be able to see a very fine line where the two edges join.

If you see that then your piano key is made from ivory.

Examine the Keys

are my piano keys made of ivory - how to find out

The most obvious way to tell if your piano keys are ivory is just to look at them.

Over time, your ivory keys will become yellowed.

The darker the shade of ivory the older the piano key is.

Ivory keys, as they age, show unique color variation.

From creamy white, yellow-tan, or yellow-brown.

Plastic keys instead show extreme color changes and variations as they age.

Consult a Professional

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If all the other tests seem like hard work, you can always contact a professional.

You will need to take samples of your keys to an ivory professional or an antique dealer.

Chances are they will use one or more of the above tests, as well as their own professional experience, to determine if your piano keys are made from ivory.

Use Ultraviolet Light

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For this, you will need an ultraviolet torch.

Simply hold it above your piano keys.

If the keys reflect a bright white or violet-blue color, then they are made from ivory.

Piano keys made from plastic instead absorb the ultraviolet light and will appear dull.

Use A Magnifying Glass (Again)

how to tell if piano keys are ivory - do they have value

Yes, there’s another magnifying glass test.

For this one, you really must examine the piano keys.

That’s because piano keys made from ivory contain natural patterns.

These are known as Schreger Lines.

They are unique patterns to ivory the same way that your thumb has using whorls that give you your fingerprint.

Schreger lines appear in crosshatch or diamond patterns.

If you can’t see any such pattern on your keys, then they are not made of ivory.

The key is made from plastic or other artificial material.

To examine the Schreger Lines measure the angles where they intersect.

Ivory from mammoths has an angle of fewer than ninety degrees.

Elephant ivory has angles more than 115 degrees.

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