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Scrimshaw whale tooth depicting a whaleship at sea

Date: 19th century
Display dimensions: 115 x 60 x 45 mm
Medium: Whale tooth
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Scrimshaw whale tooth
Object No: 00003839

User Terms

    This whale tooth has been carved in the scrimshaw technique and depicts a whaling ship at sea. The simple engraving has been filled with dark pigment to enhance the etching. Sperm whale teeth were gathered by whalers for the purpose of making scrimshaw and today these pieces are the most recognised and popular form of the folk art.
    SignificanceThis tooth demonstrates how scrimshaw engravings can be simplistic and crude, often due to cramped conditions onboard whaling ships, limited carving tools and a lack of artistic skill.
    HistoryAmerican scrimshaw can trace its early roots back to the 19th century whaling industry and was a folk art practised by whale hunters with plenty of spare time on their hands.

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

    Web title: Scrimshaw whale tooth depicting a whaleship at sea

    Primary title: Scrimshaw whale tooth depicting a whaleship at sea

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