Scrimshaw Sperm Whale’s Tooth, Mid-19th Century

Shoreside scenes were popular subjects for scrimshaw artists, lonely for their homes, families and friends. On one side of this tooth, two large merchant ships clear harbor, possibly embarking on long whaling voyages. To the right, a local coastal schooner sails around the point of land separating a town from the sea. Its simple rig would have been very old-fashioned by the mid-nineteenth century or later, when this piece was probably carved. The other side appears to derive from a print, for the engraving is much deeper and more shaded. Two warships sail to the left. The one on the right is flying an American flag. The flag on the stern of the left-hand ship—and the bow of the American vessel—are obscured by an immense explosion between the two fighting ships. Unfortunately, neither ship is identified, although such sea battle images between American frigates and English warships were popular subjects beginning around the time of the War of 1812.
Currently not on view
Object Name
tooth, whale
scrimshaw tooth, whale
Physical Description
scrimshaw (overall production method/technique)
tooth (overall material)
overall: 18.6 cm x 8.5 cm; 7 5/16 in x 3 3/8 in
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 Eleanor and Mabel (Marsh) Van Alstyne
Additional Media

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