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

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Danger was never far away for the crew of a whale ship out in the middle of the ocean. One side of this large tooth is engraved with a ship in the middle of a storm. The waves are high, and most of the ship’s sails have been taken in. Many of the sails that are left out are tattered and torn, and the rigging lines are slack, indicating strong winds.
The other side of the tooth has a whale on the surface of the ocean with two harpoons sticking out of its back. It has just knocked a whaleboat out of the water and into the air, breaking it in half. Two hapless crew are about to land in the water to swim or drown. In the distant background sails the mother ship, too far away to rescue the whaleboat’s crew.
Currently not on view
Physical Description
scrimshaw (overall production method/technique)
tooth (overall material)
overall: 17.2 cm; 6 3/4 in
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Gift of Eleanor and Mabel (Marsh) Van Alstyne
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Work and Industry: Maritime
Cultures & Communities
Data Source
National Museum of American History