Scrimshaw Sperm Whale Tooth, 19th or 20th Century

During the Civil War, Confederate commerce raiders like the CSS Alabama made it very difficult for the North's merchant vessels to conduct their business. After a two-year chase, on 19 June 1864 the Union steam warship USS Kearsarge caught the CSS Alabama at the port of Cherbourg, France. The evenly-matched ships fought a battle that ended with the Alabama sinking. The loss of the most famous Confederate raider was a strategic and political victory.
On the obverse of this sperm whale tooth, Kearsarge on the left is delivering a broadside at the Alabama to the right. The scene is framed by an oval pennant inscribed with the date on the top and "ALABAMA and KEARSARGE" below. To the left is an eagle atop a shield. The reverse has a bust portrait of victorious Union ship captain John A. Winslow, surrounded by an oval rope motif, a striped swag, a cannon and a barrel. The tip of the tooth was broken off and repaired with two staples and adhesive. Specific decorative elements in common indicate that this tooth was carved by the same anonymous artist as the Constitution vs. Guerriere tooth (Cat. 1978.0052.18).
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 3/4 in x 2 1/2 in x 1 1/2 in; 14.605 cm x 6.35 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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