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Scrimshaw depicting young girl and young woman

Date: 1860-1870
Display dimensions: 146 x 63 x 38 mm
Medium: Sperm whale tooth
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Scrimshaw whale tooth
Object No: 00006298

User Terms

    This scrimshaw tooth depicts an image of a young girl on one side and a young woman standing next to a dressing table on the other. The designs were copied from magazine fashion illustrations which were commonly used as templates by scrimshaw artists. Whale teeth were ideal for carving and highly sought after by sailors wanting to pass the time on long sea voyages. This tooth uses brown and black pigments to fill its engraved lines and was probably executed by an English sailor.
    SignificanceThis example demonstrates the fine detail scrimshanders were capable of and the common depiction of woman from fashion illustrations.
    HistoryScrimshaw was originally a maritime craft that developed from the unique conditions 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. sing jackknives, saws, homemade files and sharp sail needles, sailors etched images of women, whaling scenes or other memories of home.

    For a period of roughly 100 years whalers produced a wide variety of scrimshaw, but it is the engraved and carved 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.

    A tooth would be selected and sawn off for stability, then filed and sanded to a smooth surface. The basic design was often copied from books and magazine illustrations and would be scratched into the tooth and the engraved lines filled with ink, lamp black or other pigments. As the work progressed more detail would be added to finish the design.

    Additional Titles

    Primary title: Scrimshaw depicting young girl and young woman

    Web title: Scrimshaw depicting young girl and young woman

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