Search the Collection
Advanced Search

Scrimshaw needle case

Date: 19th century
Overall: 99 mm
Medium: Whalebone or whale tooth
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Needle case
Object No: 00006616

User Terms

    This needle case has been ornately hand carved from whale bone or whale tooth. Whalebone and teeth were popular mediums used to make decorative and functional items as it was both strong and yet able to be polished and carved. Designs were etched into them and ink was used to highlight the pattern. Such craft became generally known as "scrimshaw" and served to pass whalers time in between hunts.
    SignificanceItems as this needle case are reminders of a long established tradition and industry where great nerves, skill and fortitude were required to be a whaler, especially as the life on board a whaling ship could be brutally difficult. Examples of artistic efforts illustrate both the industrious side of the sailors on board but also a different range of their skills.
    HistoryScrimshaw was originally a whalers' folk art and involves carving and engraving animal material, including whale bone, teeth, baleen, shell, ivory and tusks. Jackknives and metal tools were used to make incisions which would then have pigment rubbed into them to enhance the drawings. Engravings on teeth are the most widely recognised form of scrimshaw, however sailors made many small simplistic items of everyday use.
    Additional Titles

    Collection title: Tilbrook collection

    Assigned title: Scrimshaw needle case

    Discuss this Object


    Please log in to add a comment.