Scrimshaw Sperm Whale Tooth, 20th Century

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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
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
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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