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Scrimshaw depiction of fashion plate woman

Date: 1870-1880
Dimensions:
Overall: 120 x 59 x 45 mm, 0.2 kg
Medium: Whaletooth, carbon
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Purchased with USA Bicentennial Gift funds
Object Name: Scimshaw whale tooth
Object No: 00018980

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    Description
    This whale tooth has been engraved with an image of a young woman, taken from a popular fashion magazine of the period. The women can be seen wearing a heavy outdoor coat and hand muffs. Magazine pictures were helpful guides for scrimshanders when drawing women, as being away at sea gave them little opportunity to draw the subjects from life.
    SignificanceThis scrimshaw tooth represents the use of fashion magazine images as templates for depicting women.
    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 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 and sharp sail needles, sailors etched images of women, whaling scenes or other memories of home.

    A tooth would be selected and sawn off for stability. It was then filed and sanded to a smooth surface. The basic design, often copied from books and magazine illustrations, would be scratched into the tooth and the engraved lines filled with ink, lamp blac, or other pigment. As work progressed more detail would be added to finish the design.

    Additional Titles

    Primary title: Scrimshaw depiction of fashion plate woman

    Web title: Scrimshaw depiction of fashion plate woman

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