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Fish-shaped scent bottle

Date: 19th century
Overall: 21 x 91 mm
Medium: Whalebone
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Scent bottle
Object No: 00000177

User Terms

    This fish-shaped scent bottle was carved from whale bone and engraved with cross-hatching marks to represent fish scales. It originally had a stopper which fitted into the fish's mouth. Whalers passed long hours at sea creating scrimshaw carvings of functional objects and decorative pieces, which were often brought home as gifts to family and friends.
    SignificanceThis rare piece of scrimshaw represents the variety of objects that were made by whalers. The bottle's high-quality production suggests it was made by an experienced scrimshander.
    HistoryScrimshaw 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 or sharp sail needles, sailors would etch images of women, whaling scenes or other memories from home.

    The act of making a gift of scrimshaw helped sailors deal with the separation from family or loved ones. For the recipient, the scrimshaw provided something useful in the daily routine of domestic life and was a decorative reminder of the sailor often away for years on end.

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