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Whalebone bulla otocranic ear bone painted with a face

Date: 19th century
Overall: 165 x 85 x 95 mm, 0.52 kg
Medium: Whalebone, ink, wood
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Scrimshaw
Object No: 00032479

User Terms

    This unusual painted head is made from a whale's inner ear bone, or tympanic bulla. It has the weight an consistancy of bone and is a unique exampe of scrimshaw.
    SignificanceScrimshaw itself-traditionally the craft of seamen and whalers passing the time in the intervals between the hectic activity of a whale chase might be seen as a special type of historic document. It came from a by way of maritime history, the ocean whaling era, from the late 18th century to the late 19th century. It speaks for a body of men who were mostly illiterate, and in its subject matter reflects their preoccupations, cultural knowledge and often their domestic lives.
    HistoryAmong the images engraved on sperm whale teeth the female figure is by far the predominant subject, not surprisingly, given the long duration of whaling voyages. Whaling ships and scenes are the next most common subject. Whatever the subject it often reflects the interests or culture of the carver - ranging from biblical figures, or heroes like Nelson or Napoleon, to fashion plates traced from illustrated newspapers, or subjects whose significance can only be guessed at. Among the multitude of small novelties and practical objects also carved from whale teeth and jaw bones came things like pastry crimpers,crochet or lace making tools, busks for the front of women's corsets - almost anything that could be fashioned from the whale bone material by hand.

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