They did everything by the book. They had their CITES permits. They even disclosed to the officials that they were carrying instruments that featured antique ivory. But Campbell Webster and Eryk Bean, both age 17, are nonetheless each without their vintage Robertson drones after they attempted to return home to Massachusetts after a successful weekend in Canada competing at the games Maxville and Montreal.
Webster’s 1936 silver and ivory Robertsons are not just vintage pipes, they are an heirloom instrument, played for many years by his father Gordon Webster, who was a pipe-major with the 1st and 2nd Battalion Scots Guards and served for many years as the official piper to Queen Elizabeth II.
Bean’s drones are also Robertsons, with full ivory mounts, made in 1958, which he purchased in January of this year for US$7,000.
At first they were told that the pipes would be held for a week. But while pipes|drums was speaking with Campbell and Lezlie Webster, they received the devastating news that neither set of pipes would be returned.
But the two were later informed that their pipes would in fact be returned to them, in what they hope would lead to the ultimate end in the roller-coaster two days.
“We were asked [by the Canadian official] our reason for travel, so I said ‘Maxville and Montreal games,’ ” Campbell Webster said about their trip out of the USA. “They asked if we had pipes. I said yes and also that they had ivory and we had CITES certificates. I knew I was flagged. I had spoken with a US Fish & Wildlife Department agent in Champlain, New York, and she informed me I needed an amendment to my CITES permit. I couldn’t get one in time to cross the border for Maxville games.”
So they decided to travel to Canada anyway, and got into the country with no trouble. But when they returned to the United States they were easy pickings for the US officials.
Having all paperwork in place – a CITES permit and the additional amendment – will cost a total of $238 each time an American takes an ivory instrument into Canada. When travelling abroad to places such as Scotland, Americans must schedule an appointment with an official at a “designated” port and make a declaration on their customs form, but there is no fee.
For an American piper with drones that feature ivory, the cost will be nearly $500 and a lot of hassle, even after doing everything by the current letter of the law.
Webster’s mother, Lezlie, who is also a prominent piper, has gotten State Senators involved, but so far even they have had no success.
“The boys are absolutely sick to their stomachs,” Lezlie Webster said upon receiving word that they might never recover the instruments.
The crackdown by US officials couldn’t come at a worse time, when dozens of the United States’ best pipers are about to travel to compete at the World Championships in Glasgow. They are now scrambling either to complete documentation or find replacement instruments that do not feature ivory mounts.
“No piper I know of supports the use of ivory today for new bagpipes,” said one piper who commented but did not wish his name to be used. “This looks like some sort of effort by officials to seize as much ‘contraband’ as possible to fulfill their job quotas. It’s absolutely idiotic.”
Webster said that he is worried the matter has alerted other smaller ports to be on the lookout for bagpipes.
“The CITES certificate is only good at main ports like airports,” he added. “We need to work on getting smaller port crossings without fees and extra paperwork. They’re going to have a lot of bagpipes very soon – enough to start their own pipe band.”
Campbell Webster said that Wallace Bagpipes of Glasgow has already stepped up to loan him an instrument when he competes in Scotland in August, should he need it.