Whalebone and Bone Umbrella

The bony substance from the mouths of whales known as baleen is formed of keratin, like human hair and nails. It hangs in long, parallel sheets from the upper jaws of the blue, right, and minke whales, as well as other lesser-known species. Its hairy fringe filters food from seawater.
Dried out, baleen’s strength and flexibility made it ideal for buggy whips, corset busks, and umbrella ribs before the advent of plastic. A whale’s bone could actually be worth more than its oil. This man’s large umbrella has a wooden shaft, heavy hinged baleen ribs made in short sections, and an ivory handle. Marked “G. Hobbs, Barre,” it belonged to the donor’s grandfather, who lived in Barre, Massachusetts, until around the end of the Civil War.
Object Name
umbrella frame, whalebone rib
Date made
ca 1835-1865
Hobbs, George
Physical Description
whale bone (overall material)
wood (overall material)
metal (overall material)
ivory (overall material)
overall open:: 103 cm x 5.5 cm; 40 9/16 in x 2 3/16 in
United States: Massachusetts, Barre
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Cultures & Communities
Industry & Manufacturing
Domestic Furnishings
Clothing & Accessories
Natural Resources
On the Water exhibit
Expansion and Reform
See more items in
Work and Industry: Fisheries
On the Water exhibit
On the Water
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Gift of A. M. Harrington
Publication title
On the Water online exhibition
Publication URL

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