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Sperm whale tooth depicts a scrimshander's preliminary tracing marks of an outline of two young women

Date: 19th century
Dimensions:
Overall: 40 x 133 x 64 mm, 0.4 kg
Medium: Sperm whale tooth
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Scrimshaw
Object No: 00006645

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    Description
    This Sperm whale tooth shows preliminary tracing marks of an outline of two young women. Scrimshaw provided a creative outlet for sailors onboard long voyages and often depicted scenes of whale hunts, women, marine animals and ships. Engraved teeth are now the most popular and recognised pieces of scrimshaw.
    SignificanceThis whale tooth is a reminder 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 is a maritime folk art that developed onboard whaling vessels in the early 19th century. It involved engraving, carving, inlaying or assembling bone from marine mammals, including whale bone, teeth, baleen, walrus tusks and shell.
    The act of making a gift of scrimshaw helped sailors ease the separation from family or loved ones. For the recipient, the scrimshaw provided something useful in the daily routine of domestic life and was a decorative reminder of the sailor, who could be away for years.
    A tooth would be selected and sawn off for stability, filed and sanded to a smooth surface. Basic engravings were often copied from books and magazine illustrations and scratched into the tooth. The engraved lines were then filled with ink, lamp black or another pigment. As the work progressed more detail would be added to finish the design.
    Additional Titles

    Collection title: Tilbrook collection

    Assigned title: Sperm whale tooth depicts a scrimshander's preliminary tracing marks of an outline of two young women

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