Scrimshaw Sperm Whale Tooth, 19th-20th Centuries

Patriotic scenes were among the most popular for amateur scrimshaw artists in the 19th century American whaling fleet. On the front of this sperm whale tooth is a large, intricately detailed eagle with a shield in its midsection marked "USA". His talons clutch a pennant inscribed "MASSACHUSETTS". Above is flying another pennant marked "BENJ GRAY 1857": likely the scrimshaw artist. The other side of the tooth is carved with a tall, slender urn marked "HOPE" on its lip, out of which large leaves are sprouting. The etching on this tooth is entirely freehand, attesting to a high level of artistic skill.
There are two Ben or Benjamin Grays in the New Bedford Whaling Museum Whaling Crew List Database, but their dates and ships do not match the date or ship on this tooth.
Currently not on view
Object Name
scrimshaw tooth, whale
date made
19th-20th century
Physical Description
scrimshaw (overall production method/technique)
whale tooth (overall material)
overall: 5 1/2 in x 2 1/4 in x 1 1/2 in; 13.97 cm x 5.715 cm x 3.81 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Cultures & Communities
See more items in
Work and Industry: Maritime
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Wilbur J. Gould
Additional Media

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