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While piano players can still claim to be “tickling the ivories,” it’s been a very long time since any piano (grand or otherwise) actually had ivory keys. True ivory comes from the teeth and tusks of mammals such as elephants, hippos, walrus, and certain whales. The word has its origins in ancient Egypt, where it apparently applied to the tusks of elephants. Prior to the introduction of very realistic plastics, and before the ivory trade became illegal in 1989 (though there is sadly still a black market for the material), it was common to use ivory for the white keys on high-end pianos, as well as ornamentation on the bodies of acoustic guitars such as the Chitarra Batente. It is still possible to find ivory used in certain instruments when it is from such extinct species as the wooly mammoth.

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