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Scrimshaw manicure set

Date: 19th Century
Overall: 100 x 57 x 13 mm, 0.008 kg
Medium: Whalebone, metal
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Gift from Desmond Liddy
Object Name: Manicure set
Object No: 00027341

User Terms

    This manicure set was commercially manufactured and consists of three carved whalebone arms and an attached metal file. Whales were primarily hunted for their oil, to be used in candles, fuels or mechanical lubricants. However the animal’s bones, baleen and teeth were also valuable materials and commonly made into functional items of scrimshaw, including sewing tools, buggy whips or busks (corset pieces).
    SignificanceThis manicure set represents the 19th century production of functional items of scrimshaw. Although scrimshaw is usually made by sailors for recreational purposes, this unique piece was commercially manufactured.
    HistoryScrimshaw was originally a maritime craft that developed onboard whaling ships in the early 19th century. No one knows for sure where the word originated, but it comes from the Dutch words 'scrim' meaning to etch and 'shorn' meaning to make. The earliest written reference is in an American ship's log dated 20 May 1826. There is also a reference to 'skrim shunder articles' in Herman Melville's Moby Dick in 1851.

    Scrimshaw is produced by engraving, carving, inlaying or assembling bone from marine mammals, such as whale bone, teeth and baleen, walrus tusks and shell. Using jackknives, saws, homemade files or needles sailors would carve functional objects and pieces of art depicting images of women, whaling scenes or memories of home.

    Additional Titles

    Primary title: Scrimshaw manicure set

    Web title: Scrimshaw manicure set

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