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Baleen

Date: 1970s
Dimensions:
550 x 170 x 75 mm
Medium: baleen
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Gift from Raymond Erland
Object Name: Baleen
Object No: 00042684

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    Description
    This is a piece of baleen from the mouth of the baleen whale (Mystacoceti) its marginal bristles intact.
    SignificanceBaleen, also known as whalebone, was an important maritime product in the days before plastic was developed. It had considerable industrial value because if its flexibiity, springiness and strength. It was widely used in corsetry and hatmaking and for applications such as buggy whips and industrial brooms and brushes until the 20th century. This piece of baleen is an example of the commercial enterprise which, along with whale oil, drove the whaling industry in the 19th cengury, and seriously depleted world stocks of baleen whales.
    HistoryBaleen, commonly known as whalebone in the days of its commercial use, is the material forming bony plates in the mouth of the baleen whale (Mystacoceti - right whale and bowhead whale) with marginal bristles to trap the small marine organisms the whale feeds on. Its commercial uses were many, because of its flexible, springy strength. It was widely used in corsetry, so that the demand for baleen rose and fell with fluctuations of fashion in corsetry. It was used in hatmaking, for buggy whips, and it had a big industrial application in brush making, especially for heavy duty brooms and brushes. It came in lengths up to about 4 metres and could be cut to order into strips or filaments. It was trimmed of its bristles and boiled to make it ready for use. It was also used in scrimshaw, for decorative elements inset into objects like walking sticks or boxes. Demand for baleen fluctuated throught the 19th century, reaching very high prices in the 1890s. A decade later the demand was gone, with the change in women's fashions, the development of flexible steel for corsets and other uses, and the change from horse transport to combustion engine.
    Ed. P Kemp, "Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea" see entry on baleen.
    G A Mawer, "Ahab's Trade: the Saga of South Seas Whaling" (1999).

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