Japanese Carved Sperm Whale Tooth, 19th-20th Century


Although there is carving on this sperm shale tooth, it is not scrimshaw by the traditional definition. Rather, it is a deeply engraved portrait of a woman by a Japanese ivory carver. The signature characters on the back of the tooth translate as “Carved by Light Happiness.”

The subject’s cape or cowl covering her head and upper body is decorated with chrysanthemums, a flower often associated with the royal family. However, her teeth are white, possibly indicating middle class origins. Fashionable upper class Japanese women had blackened teeth.

Date Made: 19th-20th century

Location: Currently not on view

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


Exhibition Location:

Credit Line: Gift of Frederic Delano

Data Source: National Museum of American History

Id Number: DL.382803Catalog Number: 382803Accession Number: 165206

Object Name: tooth, whalescrimshaw tooth, whale

Physical Description: scrimshaw (overall production method/technique)tooth (overall material)Measurements: overall: 6 7/8 in x 3 3/8 in; 17.4625 cm x 8.5725 cm

Guid: http://n2t.net/ark:/65665/ng49ca746a1-0b27-704b-e053-15f76fa0b4fa

Record Id: nmah_309423

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