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Scrimshaw dice shaker cup

Date: 19th century
Overall: 55 x 45 x 31 mm, 0.06 kg
Medium: Sperm whale tooth
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Dice cup
Object No: 00032491

User Terms

    This dice shaker cup has been carved from a Sperm whale tooth which has been left undecorated. Games would have been a way for sailors to pass time on long whaling voyages that took many years.
    SignificanceThis dice cup reprsents life on board whaling vessels and the production of utilitarian items of scrimshaw from whale material.
    HistoryAmerican scrimshaw can trace its early roots back to the 18th century whaling industry. It is a craft practised by whale hunters with plenty of spare time on their hands.

    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.

    Scrimshaw is one of a handful of American folk arts that has maintained its presence in contemporary craft practices.

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