Scrimshaw Spyglass or Telescope, mid-19th Century

This elegant little three-draw spyglass or pocket telescope is made of brass, with a central hollow handle of whale ivory. The handle is divided by ruled lines, which have the engraved inscription "MADE FOR/DEAREST/REBECCA/FROM SAMUEL/SEPT. 1867/LOOK YE OUT TO SEA/FOR ME. FROM ATOP/THE WALK YE SEE/TOPSAILS COME AHOME/TO THEE."
The poetic sentiment is offset from the rest of the inscription by horizontal lines of rope and vines. Some houses in the town of Nantucket, MA and other New England seaports had little porches with railings built above their roofs. Wives and sweethearts would climb the stairs to these high perches, known as "widow's walks", to look out to sea for their husbands and sweethearts coming home from long sea voyages. The topsails, or sails at the very top of the masts, would be the first things the women could see from these high vantage points. This spyglass has a mounting pin that could be set in a railing to steady it.
Currently not on view
Object Name
scrimshaw telescope
Object Type
date made
mid 19th century
Physical Description
brass (overall material)
bone (body inset material)
overall: 6 1/4 in x 1 1/4 in; 15.875 cm x 3.175 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Cultures & Communities
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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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