Scrimshaw Sperm Whale Tooth, 20th Century

The obverse of this large sperm whale tooth has a freehand etching with an imaginary 10-gun warship, framed by a rope motif. A fluttering pennant below is inscribed "KING NEPTUNE". The top of the tooth is inscribed "WILLIAM•CULLIMORE•N•Y•1842", and the reverse is a rope-framed image of a seated and crowned King Neptune with a trident in his left hand.
This tooth is probably a reference to the Neptune ceremony inflicted upon the crew and passengers of ships the first time they crossed the equator. King Neptune would emerge from a cabin or the sea and administer some form of mild hazing on the first timers, as a way of passing time and entertaining the veteran sailors aboard the ship.
Currently not on view
Object Name
scrimshaw tooth, whale
date made
20th century
Physical Description
whale tooth (overall material)
ivory (overall material)
overall: 6 1/2 in x 3 1/2 in x 2 1/4 in; 16.51 cm x 8.89 cm x 5.715 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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