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Whale blubber mincing knife

Date: c 1850
Overall: 34 x 647 x 56 mm, 1.15 kg
Medium: Iron, wood
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Purchased with USA Bicentennial Gift funds
Classification:Tools and equipment
Object Name: Knife
Object No: 00003715

User Terms

    This mincing knife was used to mince pieces of whale blubber into thin slices. This increased the exposed surface area of the blubber making it easier to turn the blubber into oil in iron trypots. Oil was the primary reason for whale hunting and was an important fuel for lighting during the 18th and 19th centuries. Oil was also used in the manufacture of hundreds of products including soap and margarine.
    SignificanceThis mincing knife is an excellent example of an important and common item used in the whaling industry.
    HistoryAfter killing the whale the first processing task was to strip off the valuable oil-producing blubber which lay beneath the skin (flensing). Early deep sea whalers towed the whale to the side of the ship and stripped the blubber with large flensing knives. It was then hauled on board for processing and the carcass thrown overboard. Early bay whalers used a similar process, towing the whales to shore stations where they were flensed in the shallow waters prior to being processed on land.

    No part of the whale was wasted in the modern whaling process. The dead whale was hauled up tail first onto the flensing deck by a massive cable. Teams of flensers started from the head and stripped the blubber and then hacked it into manageable blocks. Pressurised steam digesters separated the oil from the liquid product which was dried, ground into powder and sold as whale meal for animal feed. In the 19th century, great iron cauldrons called trypots were used at sea and on shore for the stinking, greasy job of boiling down whale blubber.

    Pairs of boiling trypots rested in a brick surround called the tryworks. At sea these were set on the deck between the foremast and the mainmast. The blubber was heated and stirred until the precious oil separated out. It was then ladled into large copper coolers and later poured into casks for storage and shipment.
    Additional Titles

    Assigned title: Two handled mincing knife

    Web title: Whale blubber mincing knife

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