Smithsonian museums continue to be closed to support the effort to contain the spread of COVID-19. Read a message from our director, and check our website and social media for updates.

Scrimshaw Sperm Whale’s Tooth, Mid-19th Century

Scrimshaw Sperm Whale’s Tooth, Mid-19th Century

Usage conditions apply
Downloads
Description
The pictures carved on whales’ teeth by scrimshaw artists commonly fall into a group of simple categories, like ships, whales, patriotic scenes, women, shorelines, and the like. Sometimes a tooth’s carving will tell a simple story about danger, loneliness, love or war. Other times, the tale that a tooth tells is lost in time, perhaps forever. This little tooth may be one of the latter. On the top of one side are two outlined flags: on the left is an American flag, and on the right is a flag with a large “M” on it. Both are waving in the wind. Below are the words “OUR COMPROMISE” in two lines. At the bottom is a small cannon on a truck, or carriage. The truck construction indicates that it is a land weapon rather than a ship armament. The depth of the gun etching is much deeper than the flags, perhaps indicating a different artist. Although it is polished and prepared for carving, the other side of the tooth is not decorated. The lack of a date or any other identifying factors makes it almost impossible to decipher the artist’s message to us from an earlier time. Was it a private message to a friend or lover, a political statement, a military event.
Location
Currently not on view
Object Name
scrimshaw
scrimshaw tooth, whale
Physical Description
whale tooth (overall material)
Measurements
overall: 4 1/2 in x 1 3/4 in x 1 3/8 in; 11.43 cm x 4.445 cm x 3.4925 cm
ID Number
1978.0052.39
accession number
1978.0052
catalog number
1978.52.39
Credit Line
Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Wilbur J. Gould
See more items in
Work and Industry: Maritime
Cultures & Communities
Art
Scrimshaw
Transportation
Data Source
National Museum of American History
Nominate this object for photography.   

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.

Comments

Add a comment about this object