Scrimshaw Sperm Whale’s ToothScrimshaw Domestic Scene on Sperm Whale’s Tooth, 19th Century


The crews of whale ships had more leisure time than other sailors, since their voyages could last up to four years in length. They also had larger crews than other types of ships, due to the nature of their work. During long hours on watch or lonely hours off duty, many sailors’ thoughts naturally turned to home. This sperm whale tooth is elaborately carved with a domestic scene from a wealthy home. An oriental carpet covers the floor, on which a well-dressed young couple sits on either side of an elaborately-carved table. The portrait of domestic bliss is completed by a small boy at his mother’s side with his hand across her lap. An ornately decorated column holds up rich drapes of exotic fabrics, and the whole tranquil and idealized image is surrounded by a floral frame like a painted picture on the wall. Not many sailors left such a scene behind when they went to sea nor had such a wealthy home scene to return to after a long voyage.

Location: Currently not on view

Subject: Whaling

See more items in: Work and Industry: Maritime, Scrimshaw, Cultures & Communities, Transportation, Art


Exhibition Location:

Credit Line: Gift of Frederic A. Delano

Data Source: National Museum of American History

Id Number: DL.374488Catalog Number: 374488Accession Number: 136263

Object Name: tooth, whalescrimshawscrimshaw tooth, whale

Physical Description: scrimshaw (overall production method/technique)Measurements: overall: 5 1/2 in x 2 3/8 in x 1 in; 13.97 cm x 6.0325 cm x 2.54 cm


Record Id: nmah_309378

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