Scrimshaw Sperm Whale Tooth, 19th or 20th Century

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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
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
Credit Line
Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Wilbur J. Gould
See more items in
Work and Industry: Maritime
Cultures & Communities
Data Source
National Museum of American History


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