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Scrimshaw alphabet set

Date: c 1850
Dimensions:
Overall: 34 x 21 mm, 1 mm, 0.002 kg
Medium: Whalebone
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Purchased with USA Bicentennial Gift funds
Object Name: Alphabet set
Object No: 00033864

User Terms

    Description
    This alphabet set of twenty-six pieces was made from whale bone with each tile being inscribed with a letter of the English alphabet and stained red. In the 19th century, they were one of the basic aids for reading and writing. This particular set could have been used by a young student or an illiterate whaler.
    SignificanceThis piece of scrimshaw represents the production of educational toys and reading aids in the 19th century, including finger pointers and alphabet sets.
    HistoryScrimshaw can trace its roots back to America's early whaling industry in 19th century. The craft was practiced by whale hunters who had plenty of spare time on their hands and is today one of a handful of folk art traditions that maintains a presence in contemporary craft practices.

    Scrimshaw is produced by engraving, carving, inlaying or assembling bone from marine mammals, including whale bone, teeth and baleen, walrus tusks and shell. Using jackknives, saws, homemade files and needles sailors would create functional everyday objects or artistic pieces etched with images of women, whaling scenes or memories of home. It is often difficult to determine exactly who and for what purpose some scrimshaw pieces were made and the majority of objects cannot be attributed to a particular artist.


    Additional Titles

    Primary title: Scrimshaw alphabet set

    Web title: Scrimshaw alphabet set

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