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Scrimshaw tooth depicting whaling ship and townscape

Date: 19th century
Overall: 207 x 100 x 75 mm, 1.18 kg
Medium: Sperm whale's tooth, ink
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Scrimshaw whale tooth
Object No: 00032470

User Terms

    This Sperm whale tooth is engraved with images of a whaling ship and a landscape with a village, river and cathedral. The exact location of the settlement is uncertain but it probably represents an English town. Scrimshaw was a time consuming activity that helped sailors pass the long hours at sea. They often etched images on whale bone and teeth of their hometown or copied drawings in magazines.
    SignificanceThis is a very detailed and large scrimshaw tooth that possibly depicts the home town of the scrimshander.
    HistoryAmerican scrimshaw can trace its roots back to the 19th century whaling industry and was a craft practiced by sailors with plenty of spare time on their hands. Scrimshanders produced a range of functional everyday objects or carved purely artistic pieces onto whale bone or teeth.

    Engravings on Sperm whale teeth have become the most admired and popular pieces of scrimshaw. A tooth would be selected and sawn off for stability, then filed and sanded to a smooth surface. The basic design was often copied from books and magazine illustrations and would be scratched into the tooth’s surface and the engraved lines filled with ink, lamp black or other pigments. As the work progressed more detail would be added to finish the design.

    Additional Titles

    Web title: Scrimshaw tooth depicting whaling ship and townscape

    Primary title: Scrimshaw tooth depicting whaling ship and townscape

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