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Opera glasses encased in Whalebone

Date: 19th century
Overall: 75 x 107 x 42 mm, 0.2 kg
Medium: Whalebone, bronze, glass
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Opera glasses
Object No: 00032488

User Terms

    These opera glasses were made from whalebone, bronze and glass and demonstrate the creativity of scrimshanders. The natural shape of the whalebone has been utilised to make the outer casing of these glasses. In the 19th century whalebone was used to produce many items that are now made from plastics.
    SignificanceThis is a unique example demonstrating how whalebone was used to make functional objects, prior to the development of plastic.
    HistoryAmerican scrimshaw can trace its roots back to the 18th century whaling industry and was a craft practiced by whale hunters with plenty of spare time on their hands. Scrimshanders would carve whaling by-products into functional items or pieces of folk art. The craft is one of a handful of American folk arts that has maintained its presence in contemporary practices.

    The average whaling expedition lasted anywhere from three to five years. This could bring about unbearable boredom and loneliness for the sailors. Whalers would fill their long hours by crafting presents for their loved ones back home. They carved designs into whale teeth and bone reflecting scenes of everyday life afloat and the sailor's memories of home.

    Additional Titles

    Primary title: Opera glasses encased in Whalebone

    Web title: Opera glasses encased in Whalebone

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