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Scrimshaw stiletto bodkin

Date: 18th century
Overall: 80 x 7 x 7 mm
Medium: Whalebone
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Stiletto bodkin
Object No: 00000178

User Terms

    This stiletto bodkin is made of whalebone and features a rounded end, fifteen decorative bands and a pointed tip. It was carved with a knife from a single piece of bone. Bodkins were used to create gaps in fabric when making button holes or adding decoration. They were common domestic items made by whalers to pass their time at sea.
    SignificanceThis bodkin represents the scrimshaw production of domestic sewing tools in the 18th century. Unlike, most scrimshaw which dates to the middle of the 19th century, this early piece is suspected to be from the 1700's making it particularly rare.
    HistoryScrimshaw can trace its roots back to America's early whaling industry in 19th century. The craft was practised by whale hunters who had plenty of spare time on their hands and is today one of a handful of folk art traditions that maintains a presence in contemporary craft practices.

    The average whaling expedition lasted anywhere from three to five years. This could bring about unbearable boredom and loneliness for sailors. To pass the time, whalers would fill their long hours crafting presents for loved ones back home. They carved functional items from whale bone or engraved artistic designs on whale teeth, often reflecting scenes of their everyday life afloat or memories from home.

    Sailors commonly made a variety of items relating to domestic sewing including needles, bobbins, fids, crochet hooks and needle cases. These popular items would have been useful presents for female loved ones.

    Additional Titles

    Primary title: Scrimshaw stiletto bodkin

    Web title: Scrimshaw stiletto bodkin

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