Scrimshaw Sperm Whale’s ToothScrimshaw Domestic Scene on Sperm Whale’s Tooth, 19th Century

The crews of whale ships had more leisure time than other sailors, since their voyages could last up to four years in length. They also had larger crews than other types of ships, due to the nature of their work. During long hours on watch or lonely hours off duty, many sailors’ thoughts naturally turned to home. This sperm whale tooth is elaborately carved with a domestic scene from a wealthy home. An oriental carpet covers the floor, on which a well-dressed young couple sits on either side of an elaborately-carved table. The portrait of domestic bliss is completed by a small boy at his mother’s side with his hand across her lap. An ornately decorated column holds up rich drapes of exotic fabrics, and the whole tranquil and idealized image is surrounded by a floral frame like a painted picture on the wall. Not many sailors left such a scene behind when they went to sea nor had such a wealthy home scene to return to after a long voyage.
Currently not on view
Object Name
tooth, whale
scrimshaw tooth, whale
Physical Description
scrimshaw (overall production method/technique)
overall: 5 1/2 in x 2 3/8 in x 1 in; 13.97 cm x 6.0325 cm x 2.54 cm
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
Gift of Frederic A. Delano
Additional Media

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