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Scrimshaw tooth depicting vessel and American flag

Date: 19th century
Dimensions:
Overall: 163 x 65 mm, 0.5 kg
Medium: Sperm whale tooth, pigment
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Purchased with USA Bicentennial Gift funds
Object Name: Scrimshaw
Object No: 00006420

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    Description
    This Sperm whale tooth depicts an unidentified sailing vessel flying an American flag at the stern. Only one side of the tooth has been engraved and filled with black ink. Sailors would create pieces such as this onboard whaling vessels to pass idle hours at sea. They often depicted engravings of ships and images of their everyday life at sea.
    SignificanceThis tooth is representative of a range of scrimshaw engraved with images of ships and patriotic symbols, including the American flag.
    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.

    For a period of roughly 100 years whalers produced a wide variety of scrimshaw, but it is the engraved teeth and jaws that have received the most admiration. Teeth are generally considered classic scrimshaw because of their decoration, including whaling scenes, family members, religion, love, women and patriotism.

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