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Bagatelle ball made from whale tooth

Date: 19th century
Overall: 34 mm, 0.05 kg
Medium: Whale tooth
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Scrimshaw
Object No: 00006682

User Terms

    This bagatelle ball was commercially manufactured from a whale tooth. Whalers passed long hours at sea creating scrimshaw carvings of functional objects and decorative pieces.
    SignificanceThis bagatelle ball represents the 19th century production of functional items of scrimshaw. Although scrimshaw was usually made by sailors for recreational purposes, this unique piece was commercially manufactured.
    HistoryBagatelle, from the Italian bagattella, means a decorative thing. Bagatelle, a game similar to billiards, is thought to have originated in the 1770s in France. A party held in 1777 at the Château de Bagatelle to honour King Louis XVI and the Queen, featured a new table game in which guests hit ivory balls along a table with a cue stick. The game became a hit and was called "Bagatelle" by the King's brother, Count of Artois.

    Scrimshaw was originally a maritime craft that developed 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. Using jackknives, saws, homemade files or needles sailors would carve functional objects and pieces of art depicting images of women, whaling scenes or memories of home.

    Additional Titles

    Collection title: Tilbrook collection

    Web title: Bagatelle ball made from whale tooth

    Assigned title: Polished whale tooth bagatelle ball, TILBROOK 79

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