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Scrimshaw tooth depicting a woman and inscriptions, Star of Hope and Belle of the West

Date: c 1870
Dimensions:
Overall: 160 x 60 x 40 mm, 0.46 kg
Medium: Sperm whale tooth, ink
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Scrimshaw whale tooth
Object No: 00032483

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    Description
    This whale tooth is engraved with the portraits of two women and coloured with blue, black and red pigments. It is inscribed with the names of two ships, STAR OF HOPE and BELLE OF THE WEST on its surface. BELLE OF THE WEST may also refer to Belle Starr, an infamous female outlaw of the American west during the 1850s -1880s.
    SignificanceThis tooth demonstrates the common depiction of ships and women on scrimshaw. It is a rare example because it identifies a particular ship.
    HistoryAmerican scrimshaw can trace its roots back to the 18th century whaling industry and was a folk art practiced by whalers with plenty of spare time on their hands. No one knows for sure where the term originated, but it comes from the Dutch words 'scrim' meaning to etch and 'shorn' meaning to make. Scrimshaw is produced by engraving, carving, inlaying or assembling bone from marine mammals, such as whale bone, teeth and baleen or walrus tusks and shell.

    Engravings on Sperm whale teeth have become the most recognised and collectable items of scrimshaw. A tooth would be selected and sawn off for stability. It was then filed and sanded to a smooth surface. Sailors often copied basic designs from books or magazine illustrations, scratching the image into the tooth and filling the engraved lines with ink, lamp black or other pigments. As work progressed more detail would be added to finish the design.
    Additional Titles

    Primary title: Scrimshaw tooth depicting a woman and inscriptions, Star of Hope and Belle of the West

    Web title: Scrimshaw tooth depicting a woman and inscriptions, Star of Hope and Belle of the West

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