Antique Scrimshaw on more than just Whale Teeth

Example #2 - Scrimshawed sea turtle shell
Example #4 - Scrimshawed elephant ivory billiard ball, dated 1841
Example #3 - Scrimshawed walrus tusk
Example #1 - 12.75-inch scrimshawed whalebone busk

Not all authentic antique Yankee or Victorian-era scrimshawed images are on whale teeth. Walrus tusks were popular, as were (whale) panbone sections, sea turtle shells, and to a lesser extent, elephant ivory and hippo teeth. Here are a few examples of matrices other than whale teeth.

The first example is a (whale) panbone busk, custom-made for a form-flattening corset, which were required for Victorian-era women’s dresses. Each corset was equipt with several long, sewn-in pockets, designed to hold thin “stiffeners” (busks) often made of wood or baleen (fibrous material harvested from mouths of filter-feeding whales, often mis-labeled as whalebone). Whalers hand-made busks of ivory, panbone (whale jawbone), & baleen, for their sweethearts and wives. None would splinter like wood, and were lighter & stronger. Read more here

The second example is a sailor-scrimshawed, 23-inch x 19-inch x 7-inch, full sea turtle carapace (shell). There are eleven separate scenes, each on their own shell plate. There are two southern hemisphere birds at the top, and five northern hemisphere mammals at the bottom, each on their own panel. Down the center are six individual initials: four in English; one in Hebrew; and one in an Oriental script. I speculate that the six initials represent a six-man longboat crew, and that each man scribed the two images on the costal scutes (lateral shell plates) both sides of their initials. The bottom “tail” panel has a “T” the imposed on an “A”. I speculate that these are the initials of the captain’s name, or of the ship’s name. See more photos here

The third example shows the outer-curve side of a 13.5-inch & 22.8-ounce, Arctic whaler-scrimshawed walrus tusk, depicting silhouettes of: an Inuit mother & papoose in winter costume; a stretched sealskin boat; a loaded dogsled; a pair of igloos; and a skinning knife with an ulu (blubber knife). Read more here

The fourth example is a scribed elephant ivory billiard ball, which is also decorated with two ivory “ear” discs attached by brass pins. The compass rose is labeled with an “N” on one side, and decorated with a crudely scribed bark (ship) on the other. A date of 1841 is also visible just above left disc. The ball was drilled and tapped on the bottom, probably for mounting on a ship’s binnacle for decoration. See more photos here

Other forms of scrimshaw include jagging wheel pie crimpers, clothespins, bodkins, crochet needles, hand tools, knife handles etc. See more examples here.

  • Wanda Warren

    I inherited a piece of scrimshaw from my grandfather a few years ago that I have no been able to gather any information about. I believe it is elefant tusk, about 18″ long, 3’long at the base. There is an intricate criss-cross pattern down the side of othe tusk. On one side there is a man holding a plant frond. The frond stands straight in the air and has 24 etched leaves. at the top is a bud? with 19 circles enclosing dots. Next to the man is an enclosed column of circles with dots, similar to the ones in the “bud”. There are 13 of them. The man himself is dressed in a knee length garment with longsleeves there are simple patterns at the bottom ot the garment, end of sleeves and around the “v” neck. He has a severe haircut withe bangs and hair at the cheekbones. his shoes enclose his feet and have a simple design on them. The other side of the tusk contains three village scenes. The first looks like woven teepee huts on the ground with a streem or path nearbye, the secone is a village that appears to be backed us to a land formation and the arched huts are on stilts.
    The third village, is near a stream and the hurs are on the ground with extended tunnellike opennings. They appear to have racks for storing or curing food possibly.
    So that is a fairly complete discription of the piece. I am really interested in its origin and worth. If you can help me but need more information please let me know.

  • ramon diaz

    I have several whales items that i would like to now haow match its cost.
    Thank you

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