Corset and Whalebone Scrimshaw Busk


For much of the 19th century, ladies’ fashion required very small waists. The most common way to achieve this was to wear a tightly laced corset, which could be adjusted according to the specific dress it accompanied. Like this example, many corsets were handmade to fit an individual, although they were also available in shops.

One of the most intimate pieces of scrimshaw a whaleman could produce was a bone or baleen busk, or corset stiffener. These were carved and given to a crewman’s loved one, who then inserted it into a matching sleeve on her corset as a unique memento of her beloved’s feelings.

Each of these busks has a cityscape etched into one side. The other side of one has eight pictures, topped by a portrait of a beautiful young woman. The other has a plaintive love poem on the back.

Date Made: mid-1800sCollected: 1951-06-29Fashion: 19th century

Related Event: Expansion and Reform


See more items in: Work and Industry: Maritime, Health & Medicine, Cultures & Communities, Clothing & Accessories, Work, Industry & Manufacturing, Natural Resources, Transportation, On the Water exhibit, Art

Exhibition: On the Water

Exhibition Location: National Museum of American History

Related Web Publication:

Related Publication: On the Water online exhibition

Credit Line: Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Arthur M. Greenwood

Data Source: National Museum of American History

Id Number: TR.388604Catalog Number: TR*388604Accession Number: 182022

Object Name: scrimshawscrimshaw busk bone

Physical Description: bone (overall material)Measurements: overall: 13 5/16 in x 1 3/4 in; 33.81375 cm x 4.445 cm


Record Id: nmah_1341776

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