Search the Collection
Advanced Search

Scrimshaw depicting a whaler and giant squid

Date: 19th century
Overall: 40 x 105 x 40 mm, 0.1 kg
Medium: Sperm whale tooth
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Scrimshaw whale tooth
Object No: 00003837

User Terms

    This Sperm whale tooth was carved in the scrimshaw technique and features an image of a whaling ship and a giant squid. Scrimshaw provided a creative outlet for sailors onboard long voyages and often depicted scenes of whale hunts, marine animals and ships. Engraved teeth are now the most popular and recognised pieces of scrimshaw.
    SignificanceThis tooth demonstrates how scrimshanders engraved images of their everyday life at sea.
    HistoryAmerican scrimshaw can trace its early roots back to the 18th century whaling industry. It is a folk art practiced by whale hunters with plenty of spare time on their hands during sea voyages.

    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

    Web title: Scrimshaw depicting a whaler and giant squid

    Primary title: Scrimshaw depicting a whaler and giant squid

    Discuss this Object


    Please log in to add a comment.