Scrimshaw Candle Lantern

Made of whalebone and copper, this candle lantern was designed to hold a single candle, the stub of which is still visible in the turned socket on the base. The base is pierced with four square holes to introduce a draft; the glass sides prevented the outside air from blowing out the candle. Each of the bone corner posts has shallow, faint wavy lines engraved into its sides, and the top is made of four curved and pierced sections of bone covered and pinned together by narrow strips of copper, like the ridge of a house. The little copper top is pierced to let the candle smoke out.
All four roof panels are engraved differently. One side has an unidentified ship engraved into its surface; the panel to the right is engraved with the double-entendre “•HAPPY•IS•HE•WHO•FINDETH•LIGHT•” The panel opposite the ship is carved “+JOHN+DENTON+” and the last panel is engraved “*1859.*”
Although there is a candle stub in the lantern, the absence of smoke inside the roof suggests that the lantern was too precious to its owner(s) to see much use.
Currently not on view
Object Name
tooth, whale
scrimshaw whale bone lantern
Physical Description
scrimshaw (overal production method/technique)
bone (overall material)
glass (overall material)
copper (overall material)
overall: 12 1/2 in x 4 13/16 in x 5 in; 31.75 cm x 12.22375 cm x 12.7 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

Visitor Comments

Add a comment about this object

**Please read before submitting the form**

Have a comment or question about this object to share with the community? Please use the form below. Selected comments will appear on this page and may receive a museum response (but we can't promise). Please note that we generally cannot answer questions about the history, rarity, or value of your personal artifacts.

Have a question about anything else, or would you prefer a personal response? Please visit our FAQ or contact page.

Personal information will not be shared or result in unsolicited e-mail. See our privacy policy.

Enter the characters shown in the image.