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 heavy metal rod, with the biggest vertebrae at the top. The ferrule is silver and the handle is made of carved bone in the shape of an inverted letter “L”, with hash marks cut into the surface to prevent slipping. A thin iron or steel ring separates the handle from the highest vertebra. This would have been an extraordinary conversation piece in the hands of an old or handicapped 19th century sailing ship crewman.
Currently not on view
Object Name
cane, walking
date made
19th century
Physical Description
vertebrae, fish (overall material)
metal (overall material)
shaft: 91 cm x 1.7 cm; 35 13/16 in x 11/16 in
handle: 8.5 cm; 3 3/8 in
associated place
United States: Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
See more items in
Work and Industry: Maritime
Cultures & Communities
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center


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