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Scrimshaw needle case

Date: 19th Century
Overall: 68 x 8 x 7 mm, 0.004 kg
Medium: Whalebone
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Gift from Desmond Liddy
Object Name: Needle case
Object No: 00027342

User Terms

    This cylindrical needle case was handmade from two pieces of whalebone and turned on a lathe. The lid is decorated with a thin painted black line and can be screwed into the main case. Whalebone was commonly used for making sewing equipment, such as needles, bobbins, crochet hooks and cases. Often pieces were created by sailors to help them deal with the separation from their loved ones. For the recipient the object was a useful item to use in their daily domestic life.
    SignificanceThis needle case is representative of sewing tools produced onboard whaling expeditions in the 19th century. It demonstrates the use of lathes in scrimshaw production.
    HistoryScrimshaw was originally a maritime craft that developed from the unique conditions encountered onboard whaling ships in the early 19th century. No one knows for sure where the term 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 and sharp sail needles, sailors etched images of women, whaling scenes or other memories of home.

    Crochet, knitting and needle work were popular pastimes for women in the 19th century. Crochet involves creating lace fabric or macramé with thread and a hooked needle. The exact origins of the craft are uncertain but during the 1800’s crochet lace and hooks were a common item in domestic households.

    Additional Titles

    Primary title: Scrimshaw needle case

    Web title: Scrimshaw needle case

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