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Scrimshawed elephant tusk depicting sailing ships

Date: 1987
Overall: 25 x 190 x 35 mm, 0.15 kg
Medium: Ivory : Elephant tusk
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Scrimshaw
Object No: 00000908
Place Manufactured:Africa

User Terms

    This Elephant tusk is engraved on both sides with detailed images of square rigged sailing vessels. In recent years, scrimshaw art has become increasingly collectable and the production of fake pieces has increased. This tusk came from the Republic of Central Africa and was engraved at the Man Hing Ivory Factory in Hong Kong. In 1987, the Australian Customs Service confiscated it as an illegal import.

    SignificanceThis tusk represents the commercial production of scrimshaw in the 20th century. It highlights the legal and ethical issues of using material from endangered and protected animals.
    HistoryCurrent ethical debate and an increasing awareness of marine mammal ecology has raised concern about the production of scrimshaw. Whales are now protected by international laws and treaties, meaning collectors and museums need special permits to transfer or purchase pieces. All scrimshaw must come from whale products obtained prior to the international whaling ban in 1982. In 1989, trade in ivory and the hunting of elephants was also prohibited by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). However, illegal poaching still continues with many hunters attracted by the large size of African elephant tusks.

    A 'scrimshammer' is someone who produces scrimshaw forgeries on authentic materials. The word is made up from 'scrim' meaning 'to etch' and 'sham' meaning 'fake'. These can be pieces copied from old originals or new pieces created to look like old scrimshaw. Often these pieces can be identified through tell-tale signs attributed to poor research, such as combining the lettering style of one period with an image of another period. In other cases the new pieces are simply 'too good to be true'.

    More recently there has been an increase in the production of 'fakeshaw', tooth-shape replicas manufactured from modern synthetic materials. These are usually identified by the differences in weight and texture between a real tooth and the fake. Reputable manufacturers will cast or engrave the word 'replica' somewhere on the piece and many museums co-operate with manufacturers so people can enjoy accurate reproductions of objects.

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