Corset and Whalebone Scrimshaw Busk


For much of the nineteenth century, ladies' fashion required very small waists. The most common way to achieve this was to wear a tight laced corset, which could be adjusted according to the specific garment it accompanied. Like this example, many of them 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.

One side of this whalebone busk contains three cityscapes, two of which have busy ports with lots of shipping. The other side has eight vertical pictures, topped by a full frontal portrait of a beautiful young woman. She may represent the recipient of this busk. Below her is a city scene with multiple church steeples over a flag in a precinct. A multi-colored circular geometric pattern is at the center, above a garden scene over a delicate basket of flowers. Next is a three-masted warship, and at the bottom is a large rural villa overlooking a walled garden. Can these pictures be woven into a story?

Date Made: mid-nineteenth centurymid-1800sFashion: 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 Frederic A. Delano

Data Source: National Museum of American History

Id Number: DL.374478Catalog Number: 374478Accession Number: 136263

Object Name: scrimshaw whalebone busk

Physical Description: whale bone (overall material)Measurements: overall: 13 13/16 in; 35.052 cm


Record Id: nmah_308088

Our collection database is a work in progress. We may update this record based on further research and review. Learn more about our approach to sharing our collection online.

If you would like to know how you can use content on this page, see the Smithsonian's Terms of Use. If you need to request an image for publication or other use, please visit Rights and Reproductions.