Scrimshaw Cow Horn, 1808

Some purists say that powder horns cannot be scrimshaw in the strictest definition of the term as whaling ivory, but this little piece blurs the distinction on account of its nautical imagery.
On the outer surface a brig is engraved, with a small gaff-rigged cutter running before it. The cutter has an unusual, old-fashioned heeltapper hull, with a raised quarterdeck and a low waist. Each vessel has a human-headed sea serpent in the water next to it. Above the brig on the right is a winged horse with feathers or scales on its lower body; its tail and tongue end in arrow points. Above and behind the brig on the left is a crowned two-headed winged creature with a body shaped like a plump manatee; its tail ends in a ragged line. Across from its crown the piece is dated “MAY•12•1808”. A floral vine completes the remarkable freehand carving. A painted wooden base is tacked to the wide end as a bottom; any cap that may have topped the 3-3/4-in. high piece is missing.
Currently not on view
Object Name
scrimshaw powder horn
scrimshaw tooth, whale
Object Type
date made
Physical Description
bone (?) (overall material)
overall: 3 3/4 in x 1 3/4 in x 1 3/4 in; 9.525 cm x 4.445 cm x 4.445 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

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