I recently acquired a scrimshawed whale tooth, knowing full-well that it was NOT an antique, despite the scribed date of 1859. I made my original assessment based solely on “tells” visible in the seller-provided photographs, which are included with this article. Once in hand, loupe-inspection confirmed my suspicions.
But first, here are the historic references I found about Capt. John M. Soule and the whaleship Splendid depicted in the scrimshaw:
Bridgewater, MA Vital Records (Marriages):
John M. (Soule) of Halifax and Aaroline P. Pratt, June 23, 1842
1840 United States Federal Census: John M Soule New Milford, Litchfield, Connecticut
Books, Pamphlets, Log Books, Pictures, etc. Illustrating Whales and the Whale Fishery Contained in the Free Public Library New Bedford, MA (Page 13):
(Captain:) John M. Soule,
(owner:) C. R. Tucker & Co.” (of New Bedford)
Foreign Ships in Micronesia, Marshall Islands:
1860: “Whaleship WILLIAM C. NYE of NB, Capt John M. Soule, lay off Namorik on Mar 16. ‘Canoes came alongside with a few coconuts’.”
Foreign Ships in Micronesia, Port Pohnpei:
1867: “Whaleship ADELINE of NB, Capt John M. Soule, visited the Pohnpei area. Feb 10: Stood off Pingelap. A boat came off the island. Feb 11: Stood off at Mokil. Ship bought a few hogs & other things. Feb 12: Anchored at Pohnpei in Hadley’s Harbor.” Took on wood & water before leaving Pohnpei on Mar 1.”
1868: “Whaleship ADELINE of NB, Capt John M. Soule, again put in at Pohnpei on Jan 31 after lying off Mokil far part of a day. Four men deserted, two of them captured shortly afterwards. The chief would not surrender the other two deserters. Left Pohnpei on Feb 19.”
The ship Splendid was a whaler out of Sag Harbor, then New Bedford, and eventually New Zealand. The Splendid can be found in the following internet references:
• “Whaleship Splendid in Honolulu HI, March 22, 1845″
• “In 1848, the Cold Spring Harbor whaleship Splendid, left on a whaling voyage to the Pacific Ocean. Her crew traveled thousands of miles and returned to Long Island 29 months later.”
• “. . . whaler Splendid arrived at the Heads (New Zealand) on Saturday, 23rd (1878) ult., after a three months’ cruise Off the Chatham Islands. . .”
• Sunday Island, Kermadec Group of Islands.
Here are the tells which I used to determine that this authentic whale tooth was scribed within the last 50-years, or so:
1. The vast majority of authentic antique scrimshawed whale teeth have the skirt trimmed-off, which allows the tooth to self-display (stand alone), and more importantly, prevents the naturally thin skirt from splitting due to dry-out cracks. The Soule tooth has not been trimmed.
The Soule tooth's skirt has not been trimmed.
2. Authentic antique scrimshawed whale teeth were smoothed with a series of shark skins, and were usually quite smooth, but not highly polished. Modern scrimshanders use power tools and/or a series of sandpapers, from 60-grit to 1500-grit. The Soule tooth is highly polished.
The Soule tooth is highly polished.
3. Only 5 percent of authentic scrimshawed whale teeth have scribed text; and only 2 percent are dated. Of my 33 authentic antique scrimshawed whale teeth, only one has text (name of a ship). Forgers nearly always scribed text and dates onto whale teeth to increase their value.
Forgers nearly always scribed text and dates onto whale teeth to increase their value.
4. 150-years ago (1859) an authentic whaler/scrimshander would know that the name of the largest whaling port in the U.S. is New Bedford, NOT Bedford (see above).
5. Loupe inspection of the scribed text reveals chipping in the straight lines, similar to the ragged pattern visible when a pane of glass is scored prior to sizing. 150-years ago, a whaler would have used a fresh whale tooth, which is fairly soft, allowing easy scribing with a jack knife and sail needle. The cut and scribe lines in a soft tooth are smooth and sharp-edged. As a tooth ages, the surface becomes brittle. The cut & scribe lines in an old tooth are jagged. The inscribed title “Good Old Soule” has ragged edges.
The inscribed title “Good Old Soule” has ragged edges.
6. Finally, artistic talent among whalers was rare, so most authentic antique scrimshaw portraits are fairly crude, or were trace-copied from printed images. In contrast, modern day scrimshanders are all artists. The Soule tooth scrimwork is original, most likely rendered by a modern artist.
The Soule tooth scrimwork is original, most likely rendered by a modern artist.
If this 6-inch & 9.9-ounce scrimshawed whale tooth was an authentic antique, it would be worth a few thousand dollars. As a modern scrimshaw, it is only worth a few hundred dollars.
Douglass is a WorthPoint Worthologist specializing in scrimshaw and is the Webmaster of the Scrimshaw Collectors Web site.
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