On the Water

Polychrome Scrimshaw Whale Tooth

Even whalemen with little or no artistic talent could carve highly detailed scenes, through use of the pinprick technique. In this method, a picture was cut from a contemporary magazine and then pasted or dampened to stick to the polished surface of a sperm whale's tooth. A sharp pin was then pushed through the lines of the image, which was then removed. This left lines of dots; when these were connected with engraved lines, they formed a copy of the original picture. Most commonly, lamp black (soot) was then rubbed into the engraved lines to make them stand out from the background of the tooth, although colored pigments like those on this tooth also could be applied for variety. The high fashion of this lady's garments bracket a date just a few years after the end of the Civil War.

ID Number:
6 3/4 in x 3 1/2 in x 2 5/16 in; 17.145 cm x 8.89 cm x 5.9055 cm
Gift of Frederic A. Delano