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Scrimshaw tooth with relief carving of child

Date: 19th Century
Dimensions:
Overall: 117 x 49 mm, 0.1 kg
Medium: Whale tooth
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Purchased with USA Bicentennial Gift funds
Object Name: Scrimshaw whale tooth
Object No: 00009280

User Terms

    Description
    This whale tooth has been carved in relief and depicts the image of a young girl standing. Relief carving in scrimshaw tends to be less common and detailed than penknife engravings. The material was difficult to work with and whalers often had limited carving tools available onboard ships.
    SignificanceThis is a rare example of a scrimshaw tooth carved in relief.
    HistoryScrimshaw was originally a maritime craft that developed from the conditions encountered onboard whaling ships in the early 19th century. No one knows for sure where the term 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.

    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 attention and admiration. Teeth are generally considered classic scrimshaw because of their decoration, including scenes of whaling, family members, religion, love, women and patriotism.

    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.

    Additional Titles

    Primary title: Scrimshaw tooth with relief carving of child

    Web title: Scrimshaw tooth with relief carving of child

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