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Pewter whale oil lamp clock

Date: early 19th century
Overall: 339 × 132 mm, 1.5 kg
Medium: Pewter and glass
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Purchased with USA Bicentennial Gift funds
Classification:Tools and equipment
Object Name: Whale oil lamp clock
Object No: 00042525
Place Manufactured:United States

User Terms

    This whale oil lamp clock is made from pewter. The roman numerals marked 1 to 12 on the pewter strap served as a clock. Whale oil burned at a very steady rate, very brightly and with little smoke. Because whale oil burned so evenly, it could be depended on to keep time. For each hour the whale oil burnt in this clock, the oil lowered to the next marked level.
    SignificanceWhale oil was highly prized from 1750 to 1850 as the best lamp fuel. Oil from the skull cavity of the spermaceti whale was the finest quality and was a major reason the whaling industry was so profitable.
    HistoryWhaling played an essential part in 19th century life. Industry and households depended on whale products for which there was no substitute. Whale oil was used for lighting and lubrication until 1860 when kerosene and petroleum started to gain popularity. The pure clean oil from sperm whales was a superior source of lighting and the finest candles were made from the whale's wax-like spermaceti. The oil was also used in the manufacture of hundreds of commodities, most notably soap and margarine. Light and flexible, baleen - the bristle-fringed plates found in the jaws of baleen whales - had many uses in objects which today would be made out of plastic.

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