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Scrimshaw tooth depicting two vessels (one tinted red)

Date: 19th century
Overall: 149 x 64 mm, 0.35 kg
Medium: Whale tooth, ink
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Purchased with USA Bicentennial Gift funds
Object Name: Scrimshaw whale tooth
Object No: 00009278

User Terms

    This scrimshaw whale tooth has been engraved with the image of two sailing vessels. The ship at the top of the tooth is a brigantine (a two-masted sailing ship) that has been coloured with red pigment. Whale teeth were highly sought by sailors when creating pieces of scrimshaw. Today, these engraved teeth are the most popular type of scrimshaw bought by collectors.
    SignificanceThis tooth is representative of the common depiction of maritime scenes and sailing ships on 19th century scrimshaw.
    HistoryScrimshaw is a maritime folk art that developed onboard whaling vessels in the 19th century. To help fill the long hours at sea whalers would use knives and other sharp tools to carve images on whale bone, teeth and other marine animal by-products.

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

    Primary title: Scrimshaw tooth depicting two vessels (one tinted red)

    Web title: Scrimshaw tooth depicting two vessels (one tinted red)

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