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Sailor made dolls - head, hand and legs made of whalebone, human hair wigs and rag-filled bodies

Date: 1850s
Overall: 312 x 415 x 90 mm, 1.5 kg
Medium: Whalebone, whale tooth, textile, human hair, wood, glass
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Doll
Object No: 00018316
Place Manufactured:England

User Terms

    These two mounted dolls have heads, feet and hands made of whale bone or tooth. They are considered to be from the mid 1800's and most likely English.
    SignificanceThese scrimshaw dolls are incredibly rare as few bone toys survived the rigours of childhood play. Examples such as these show the artistic efforts and industrious side of the sailors on board whalers and also a different range of their skills.
    HistoryThis kind of craft work is most usually referred to as scrimshaw it is less commonly called scrinshorn or squimshon and the most common form found is the whale tooth with images of whaling activities, sailors and ships, and pretty women. Many other pieces have been made from the teeth of the sperm whale and less often the killer whale (orca). Examples include buttons, pen knives, pie crimpers, busks for corsets, walking sticks and swifts.The list is almost endless - limited only by the sailor's skill and imagination.Toys for brothers and sisters or daughters and sons at home were once quite common but few have survived the years.Nearly all of the usual children's toys were objects of the scrimshander's art.Whalebone, whale ivory, baleen, and walrus ivory made most attractive toys.Dolls and doll furniture
    were popular. Yet few scrimshawed dolls are still in existence. Ivory heads were carved similar to the china or wax heads popular in the nineteenth century. (page 241, Flayderman, E., Scrimshaw and Scrimshanders. N. Flayderman, 1972)

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