On the Water

Corset and Whalebone Scrimshaw Busk

For much of the 19th century, ladies’ fashion required very small waists. The most common way to achieve this was to wear a tightly laced corset, which could be adjusted according to the specific dress it accompanied. Like this example, many corsets were handmade to fit an individual, although they were also available in shops.

One of the most intimate pieces of scrimshaw a whaleman could produce was a bone or baleen busk, or corset stiffener. These were carved and given to a crewman’s loved one, who then inserted it into a matching sleeve on her corset as a unique memento of her beloved’s feelings.

Each of these busks has a cityscape etched into one side. The other side of one has eight pictures, topped by a portrait of a beautiful young woman. The other has a plaintive love poem on the back.

ID Number:
13 5/16 in x 1 3/4 in; 33.81375 cm x 4.445 cm
Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Arthur M. Greenwood

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