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Scrimshaw tusk showing unofficial Australian coat of arms

Date: 1860-1885
Overall: 40 x 550 mm, 0.85 kg
Medium: Walrus tusk, ink
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Purchased with USA Bicentennial Gift funds
Object Name: Walrus tusk
Object No: 00019500

User Terms

    This walrus tusk depicts the unofficial Australian coat of arms and the image of a well dressed man tipping his hat. The man may be the actor Edwin Booth who visited australia in 1854. Ivory from walrus tusks was often used in scrimshaw pieces by whalers working in the Arctic waters of the north Pacific Ocean. Whaling expeditions required sailors to travel large distances and often saw them interacting with local inhabitants across the world.
    SignificanceThis tusk is an example of the use of walrus ivory in scrimshaw pieces and represents trade between Australian whalers and the indigenous Inuit of the Arctic.
    HistoryScrimshaw was originally a maritime craft that developed 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 and other memories of home.

    Before the tradition of scrimshaw developed onboard whaling ships the indigenous populations of North America are known to have used animal materials, including whale bone, teeth, horn and shell to carve functional objects and artistic pieces.

    Additional Titles

    Primary title: Scrimshaw tusk showing unofficial Australian coat of arms

    Web title: Scrimshaw tusk showing unofficial Australian coat of arms

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