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Scrimshaw needle case

Date: 19th century
Overall: 11 x 63 x 11 mm
Medium: Whalebone
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Needle case
Object No: 00001380

User Terms

    This simply designed needle case was carved from a piece of whalebone and features a removable lid. It would have been a common domestic item in the 1800s and was likely carved by a sailor as a gift for a loved one. Whaling expeditions could last for up to five years and scrimshaw helped stop the boredom sailors experienced at sea.
    SignificanceThis needle case represents the production of simple items of scrimashaw for gifts and the widespread use of whalebone in 19th century sewing tools.
    HistoryScrimshaw was originally a maritime craft that developed from the unique conditions encountered onboard whaling ships in the early 19th century. No one knows for sure where the term originated, but it comes from the Dutch words 'scrim' meaning to etch and 'shorn' meaning to make.

    Scrimshaw is produced by engraving, carving, inlaying or assembling bone from marine mammals, such as whale bone, teeth and baleen or walrus tusks and shell. Using jackknives, saws, homemade files and sharp sail needles sailors would etch images of women, whaling scenes or other memories of home.

    Crochet, knitting and needle work were popular pass times for women in the 19th century. Crochet involves creating lace fabric or macramé with a thread and a hooked needle. The exact origins of crochet are uncertain but during the 1800’s crochet lace and hooks were a common item in domestic households.

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