Shark Vertebrae Cane, 19th Century

Scrimshaw was one form of sailors’ art, and cane making was another. This example is made from a series of carefully graduated shark vertebrae threaded over a light metal rod, with the biggest vertebrae at the top. The ferrule is wooden and the rounded wooden handle is in the shape of a simplified horse’s hoof. Near the top where the handle begins curving for the user’s handhold, there are some pieces of wood and baleen trimmed on one side to account for the curving handle. The ferrule at the bottom is cracked, and there is some evidence for repairs at a few spots along the shaft, indicating the importance of the cane to its owner(s). The length of this example suggests use by a man.
Currently not on view
Object Name
cane, walking
date made
19th century
Physical Description
vertebrae, fish (overall material)
wood (overall material)
shaft: 87.5 cm x 1.6 cm; 34 7/16 in x 5/8 in
handle: 12.1 cm x 2.6 cm; 4 3/4 in x 1 in
associated place
United States: Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Cultures & Communities
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Work and Industry: Maritime
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Estate of Lawrence N. Ravick, Pittsburgh PA
Additional Media

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