Scrimshaw Sperm Whale Tooth, mid-19th Century

Scrimshaw Sperm Whale Tooth, mid-19th Century

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Intact sperm whale teeth are hollow on the wide bottom end; the tip of this polished example was cut off to create a solid surface for a stamp. On the obverse is an American eagle between flags; it stands on a shield with a solid top over a human arm holding a hammer. Behind the eagle, a rising sun's rays fan out from the eagle's head. The reverse has a carving of a plainly dressed young woman with her left arm resting on the stock of a vertical anchor. Her right hand holds a flying banner marked "HOPE". The solid base of the tooth has a stamp carved in its bottom: in reversed cursive lettering is the name "H. Gerodett." The tooth was donated by a descendant of Henry Gerodett, a US Navy enlisted crewman who served in the Mexican-American War.
A stamp with a personal name made from a sperm whale tooth is unusual in the realm of scrimshaw art. More commonly, small whale ivory stamps were carved in the outlines of different types of whales, with a blank space in the middle of the whale's body. As a whale was captured and processed, the logbook keeper would stamp that particular whale type in the official ship's logbook, and write the number of barrels of oil it yielded in the blank space.
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
mid 19th century
Physical Description
scrimshaw (overall production method/technique)
overall: 4 in x 2 in; 10.16 cm x 5.08 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
See more items in
Political and Military History: Armed Forces History, Naval
Cultures & Communities
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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