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Alaska sperm - 14 May 1923 - Dawn of Romance - Ralph: Whale teeth - 7 May 1924 - Sunrise of Love - Myrle

Date: 1923-1924
Overall: 145 x 206 mm, 1 kg
Medium: Sperm whale teeth, brass, wood
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Purchased with USA Bicentennial Gift funds
Object Name: Scrimshaw
Object No: 00009075
Place Manufactured:Australia

User Terms

    This mounted picture frame is surrounded by two matching Sperm whale teeth depicting engraved images of a spouting whale, rising sun and building. The frame was made by an American whaler to commemorate his marriage to an Australian woman and features the overlapping initials of USA and NSW. The teeths inscribed dates of 14 May 1923 and 7 May 1924 indicate they were likely carved some time after being collected, as Americans had stopped whaling in Australian waters by the end of the 1800's.
    SignificanceThis frame is a unique piece that shows the personal nature of many items of scrimshaw and the links between American and Australian whaling. The precise dates engraved on the teeth also make it particularly rare.
    HistoryScrimshaw is a maritime folk art tradition that developed 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. Scrimshaw is produced by engraving, carving, inlaying or assembling bone from marine mammals, including 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 to pass their time onboard.

    During the 19th century, the average whaling expedition lasted anywhere from three to five years. This could bring about unbearable boredom and loneliness for the sailors. Whalers would fill their long hours by crafting presents for their loved ones back home and carved designs into whale teeth and bone that reflected scenes of everyday life afloat and the sailor's memories of home. It is one of a handful of American folk arts that has maintained a presence in contemporary craft practices.

    Additional Titles

    Web title: Frame featuring two Sperm Whale teeth: Ralph and Myrle

    Primary title: Alaska sperm - 14 May 1923 - Dawn of Romance - Ralph: Whale teeth - 7 May 1924 - Sunrise of Love - Myrle

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