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Scrimshaw depicting woman's portrait

Date: 19th century
Overall: 535 x 150 x 50 mm, 0.5 kg
Medium: Whale jaw, ink
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Scrimshaw whale jaw
Object No: 00032476

User Terms

    This Pilot whale jaw is engraved with the portrait of a seated woman wearing a necklace and bracelet. She is surrounded by a border of decorative foliage. The teeth of the Pilot whale can all still be seen on the jaw. Sailors carved scrimshaw onboard whaling expeditions to help fill the long hours at sea. They commonly depicted images of women that were copied from illustrations in fashion magazines.
    SignificanceThis is representative of the use of Pilot whale jaws in 19th century scrimshaw.
    HistoryAmerican scrimshaw can trace its roots back to the 19th century whaling industry and was a craft practised by whale hunters with plenty of spare time on their hands. The basic scrimshaw designs were often copied from books and magazine illustrations, and scratched into the surface of teeth and bones. The engraved lines were then filled with ink, lamp black or other pigments and as the work progressed more detail would be added to the design.

    Pilot whales are related to dolphins and can be found in all the worlds oceans. They were frequently caught by sailors as a source of fresh food and their jaws used in scrimshaw.

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