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Scrimshaw dice shaker cup with image of woman

Date: 19th century
Overall: 55 x 45 x 30 mm, 0.06 kg
Medium: Sperm whale tooth, ink
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Dice cup
Object No: 00032490

User Terms

    This dice shaker cup was carved from a Sperm Whale tooth and engraved with the image of a woman and diamond. The irregular shape of the piece is due to the natural shape of the whales tooth. Life at sea could be lonely and boring for sailors, often were away for periods of up to five years. Creating scrimshaw and gambling were amusing ways to pass the time at sea.
    SignificanceThis cup represents the production of scrimshaw gaming items in the 19th century.
    HistoryScrimshaw was originally a maritime craft that developed from the unique conditions encountered onboard whaling ships in the early 19th century. It is produced by engraving, carving, inlaying or assembling bone from marine mammals, such as whale bone, teeth and baleen or walrus tusks and shell. Using jackknives, saws, homemade files or sharp sail needles, sailors would etch images of women, whaling scenes or other memories from home.

    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: Scrimshaw dice shaker cup with image of woman

    Web title: Scrimshaw dice shaker cup with image of woman

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