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Scrimshaw tooth depicting Victorian lady

Date: 19th century
Overall: 73 x 83 x 45 mm, 0.66 kg
Medium: Sperm whale's tooth, ink
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Scrimshaw whale tooth
Object No: 00032469

User Terms

    This Sperm whale tooth is engraved with an image of a Victorian lady wearing a winter jacket and bonnet. It was copied from a 19th century illustration in a fashion magazine. Carving scrimshaw was a time consuming activity that helped sailors pass the long hours at sea. They commonly used magazine illustrations as templates when creating the pieces.
    SignificanceThis large Sperm whale tooth is representative of scrimshaw designs taken from fashion magazines and the common depiction of women.
    HistoryAmerican scrimshaw can trace its roots back to the 19th century whaling industry and was a craft practiced by whale hunters who had plenty of spare time on their hands. Scrimshaw varies from being functional objects to pure pieces of decorative folk art. Today the most recognized and admired scrimshaw is the etchings made on Sperm whale teeth, featuring a range of themes including whale hunts, ships, women and landscape scenes.

    A tooth would be selected and sawn off for stability, then filed and sanded to a smooth surface. The basic design was often copied from books and magazine illustrations and scratched into the tooth surface and the engraved lines filled with ink, lamp black or another pigment. Whalers produced numerous scrimshaw whale teeth featuring etchings of women, ships, whale hunts, poems, marine animals and mottos. In recent years these teeth have become increasingly collectable and are now highly prized at auctions.
    Additional Titles

    Web title: Scrimshaw tooth depicting Victorian lady

    Assigned title: Scrimshaw tooth depicting Victorian lady

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