USS Alaska Scrimshaw Sperm Whale Tooth


The wooden screw sloop of war USS Alaska was built in 1868 and spent much of her career in the southern Pacific and Far East representing the American nation in foreign ports. In June 1878, she cleared New York for San Francisco and stopped at several South American ports on the way.

One of Alaska's port calls from 20-29 September 1878 was to Talcahuano, in the center of Chile's coast and that nation's main naval port. It also was one the principal stops for American whalers in the Pacific seeking fresh supplies and entertainment. This massive sperm whale's tooth was probably purchased there and engraved by one of Alaska's crew to commemorate his visit. While the carver of this tooth is unknown, it may have been one of the officers who kept the official ship's logbooks, because the calligraphy on the covers of the logs for this voyage is exceptionally elaborate and colorful.

As this tooth indicates, the Talcahuano visit and liberty calls were memorable. Sent ashore on liberty, 54 of Alaska's crew went AWOL (Absent WithOut Leave), and three more were confined to double irons (feet and hand cuffs) for drunk and boisterous behavior or fighting.

Date Made: 1878Uss Alaska Port Call To Chile, Talcahuano: 1878-09

Associated Place: South PacificUnited States: New York, New YorkSouth AmericaChile: BiobĂ­o, TalcahuanoUnited States: California, San Francisco

Related Event: The Development of the Industrial United States


See more items in: Work and Industry: Maritime, Cultures & Communities, Military, 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.374477Catalog Number: 374477Accession Number: 136263

Object Name: scrimshaw tooth, whale

Physical Description: scrimshaw (overall production method/technique)ivory (overall material)Measurements: overall: 9 1/4 in x 4 1/4 in x 2 1/2 in; 23.4696 cm x 10.795 cm x 6.35 cm


Record Id: nmah_309397

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.