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Contemporary whale tooth scrimshaw depicting the whaler ELIZA ADAMS

Date: 1993
Overall: 175 x 70 mm, 0.65 kg
Medium: Engraved original sperm whale tooth
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Purchased with USA Bicentennial Gift funds
Object Name: Whale tooth
Object No: 00016818
Place Manufactured:Perth

User Terms

    This tooth is part of six teeth from a whale taken from Australia's last whaling station at Albany, WA. The teeth were commissioned by the Australian National Maritime Museum and scrimshandered by Gary Tonkin, with contemporary engraved scenes representing the voyage of the New Bedford whaler ELIZA ADAMS between 1872 and 1876. The title of the two engraved scenes are 'The second blanket 1873' and 'Collision MATILDA SPEARS 1875'.
    SignificanceThis scrimshaw whale tooth is representative of whaling procedures, vessel structure and events typical of a whaling voyage.
    HistoryScrimshaw was originally a maritime craft that developed from the unique conditions 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. sing jackknives, saws, homemade files and sharp sail needles, sailors etched images of women, whaling scenes or other memories of home.

    For a period of roughly 100 years whalers produced a wide variety of scrimshaw, but it is the engraved and carved teeth and jaws that have received the most admiration. Teeth are generally considered classic scrimshaw because of their decoration, including whaling scenes, family members, religion, love, women and patriotism.

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

    Gary Tonkin began scrimshandering in about 1975, after working in the whaling industry as a young man. He is self-taught and uses traditional scrimshaw techniques, and has become recognised as a leading contemporary practitioner of scrimshaw.

    On 10 June 1872 ELIZA ADAMS sailed from New Bedford on the East coast of America, bound for the southern Indian and Pacific oceans. The four year whaling voyage, 1872 - 1876, took the vessel around the world and included a successful trip along the West coast of Australia.

    Both the highlights and mundane aspects of ELIZA ADAMS' journey are illustrated on the teeth: including the vivid and exciting 'Knocked down by a waterspout'; the birth of the Hamblin's son in Albany, Western Australia 'Captain's newborn son' and 'Caulking the hull' which records the ship's visit to Hobart, Tasmania where it docked for repairs in September 1874.
    Additional Titles

    Web title: Contemporary whale tooth scrimshaw depicting the whaler ELIZA ADAMS

    Primary title: Scrimshawed whale tooth 'The second blanket 1873' and 'Collision MATILDA SEARS 1875'

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