Scrimshaw Sperm Whale Tooth, mid-19th Century

The obverse of this sperm whale tooth is carved with a freehand drawing of a three masted ship sailing from right to left. All sails are set and filled with wind, as the ship moves over the sea. The carving is deep, intricate and highly detailed, showing confidence and experience on the part of the artist. The reverse depicts a freehand drawing of the bust of a young woman in a fancy dress. She has large hoop earrings and an elaborate hat decorated with flowers. The portrait is surrounded by an oval frame. Normally, scrimshaw carving was infilled with lamp black, which made the etched lines stand out. On this tooth, however, the artist chose to infill with a light red or orange color, which has faded with time. This results in very faint lines that do not showcase the artist's obvious talent.
Currently not on view
Object Name
tooth, whale
scrimshaw - tooth
scrimshaw tooth, whale
Physical Description
scrimshaw (overall production method/technique)
whale tooth (overall material)
overall: 4 3/4 in x 2 in x 1 3/8 in; 12.065 cm x 5.08 cm x 3.4925 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog 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 Dr. and Mrs. Wilbur J. Gould
Additional Media

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