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Whale penis lamp

Date: 19th century
Overall: 1160 x 220 x 220 mm
Medium: Wood, wire, plastic, preserved organic matter
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Lamp
Object No: 00042380

User Terms

    This electric lamp is made from the dried penis of a whale. Mounted on a wooden plinth with a standard light bulb, cord and plug, it is a highly unusual example of the way whale products have been souvenired and fetishised. While whale oil, meat and bone have traditionally been highly sought after, the whale's penis has little commercial use.
    SignificanceThis is a rare example of a preserved and mounted whale penis transmuted into a contemporary electric lamp. The distinctive use of the penis is representative of the collecting habits of the whalers themselves, and those involved in the whaling industry.
    HistoryThe skin of a whale's penis is known to produce particularly soft suede once dried and tanned. It is alleged that the 20th century Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis had the bar stools of his luxury yacht CHRISTINA covered in whale penis leather. This symbolic statement, whether true or false, was often used by journalists as 'proof' of Onassis' perceived virility, power and extravagance.

    The brutal and rapacious escalation of the British and American whaling industry through the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries saw the whale penis fetishised as a phallic amusement. With no recognisable commercial use for the penis other than as an addition to a try pot, the organ was sometimes souvenired by whalers as trophy evidence of their power and control over a creature so much larger than themselves. In the small arctic communities of Iceland, Greenland and Norway, where all parts of the dead whale where historically used, whale penises were dried and tanned, and often transformed into whips.

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