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Bottle of whale oil

Date: c 1880
Dimensions:
Overall: 113 × 37 mm, 100 g
Medium: Whale oil, paper, cork, glass
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Purchased with USA Bicentennial Gift funds
Object Name: Oil
Object No: 00019503
Place Manufactured:New Bedford

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    Description
    The finest whale oil came from sperm whales. Just one could yield about 13 500 litres or 192 000 bottles of Mr Nye's oil. This oil was used for lubricating sewing machines and fine instruments like clocks.
    SignificanceThis bottle of Nye whale oil provides an example of the myriad of ways in which whale oil was used in the 19th century.
    HistoryWhaling played an essential part in 19th century life. Industry and households depended on whale products for which there was no substitute. Whale oil was used for lighting and lubrication until 1860 when kerosene and petroleum started to gain popularity. The pure clean oil from sperm whales was a superior source of lighting and the finest candles were made from the whale's wax-like spermaceti. Light and flexible, baleen - the bristle-fringed plates found in the jaws of baleen whales - had many uses in objects which today would be made out of plastic.

    American whaling centred on the north-east coastal town of New Bedford, a booming industry in the 19th century with hundreds of ships regularly heading out to the Pacific Ocean.
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