Scrimshaw Sperm Whale Tooth, 19th or 20th Century

One of the most important sea battles of the War of 1812 was the engagement between the USS Constitution and HMS Guerriere on 19 August 1812 off the New England coast. Constitution won the battle decisively, damaging Guerriere so badly that it was set on fire and sunk rather than towed home for a prize. Constitution had more and bigger guns, and its hull was thicker; when one of Guerriere's cannon balls bounced off Constitution's hull, the American frigate was nicknamed "Old Ironsides." Although the United States Navy was much smaller and less experienced, this battle proved it could hold its own against the world's largest and strongest sea power.
The etching on the obverse of this sperm whale tooth depicts Constitution firing a broadside into Guerriere, knocking down its mizzenmast. An oval frame inscribed on the bottom "USS Constitution and Guerriere " encircles the scene. The reverse of the tooth has busts of the British commander Captain James Richard Dacres and American Captain Isaac Hull beneath crossed flags of their two nations. Between the two ship captains is the slogan "Free Trade and Sailors Rights," which was an American motto for the War of 1812. Specific decorative elements in common indicate that this tooth was carved by the same anonymous artist as the Kearsarge vs. Alabama tooth (Cat. 1978.0052.36).
Currently not on view
Object Name
scrimshaw tooth, whale
Object Type
date made
19th-20th century
Physical Description
whale tooth (overall material)
overall: 4 7/8 in x 3 1/2 in x 1 1/2 in; 12.3825 cm x 8.89 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

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.