Scrimshaw Sperm Whale Tooth, 19th-20th Century

The obverse of this large sperm whale tooth is carved with the image of a strange warship of unknown type, as though the scrimshaw artist had never seen a real vessel in the water but was perhaps using an illustration for inspiration.
The vessel sits deep in the water, but the top of the rudder is showing. Nine gunports adorn the starboard (right) side of the vessel, but the ports are compressed into horizontal slits close to the waterline, where they would have flooded in even moderate seas. The sails are all rigged but have deep cutouts along the bottom edges, and all the rigging lines are slack. Each of the three masts has a fighting top, and each mast is capped with a long, fluttering pennant reminiscent of a medieval jousting tournament. The ship is framed with a rope motif and beneath is the name "Eliza 1863" in an ornate beribboned panel.
The reverse is decorated more conventionally, with an eagle with spread wings atop a shield containing stars and stripes. A ribbon below proclaims "United States of America" and a pennant above the eagle says "Mighty Eagle". Around the top of the tooth is written "NEW LONDON".
Currently not on view
Object Name
scrimshaw tooth, whale
Object Type
date made
19th-20th century
Physical Description
whale tooth (overall material)
overall: 6 3/4 in x 2 3/4 in x 2 1/4 in; 17.145 cm x 6.985 cm x 5.715 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Natural Resources
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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