Restoring Faded or Missing Scrimshawed Images on Ivory

I recently obtained a small antique whale tooth displaying a minor scrimshawed scene of a ship on water. The image was quite finely scribed, and only faintly visible.

I planned to revive this minor scrimwork, and solicited feedback from collectors & scrimshanders who may have experience with re-inking scrimshaw. I received a few direct e-mails on this subject, with various advice and suggestions: some complicated; some simple.

Image #1 - Faded antique scrimshawed whale tooth

Here are four simple steps that provided the results below:
1.) I gently cleaned the ivory surface with denatured alcohol on a cotton cloth;
2.) Using a Q-tip, I carefully applied a thin layer of Cotman Lamp Black #337 over the image, which dried quite rapidly;
3.) Using only a slightly damp paper towel, I gradually wiped-off the tint, guarding against removing too much;
4.) I continually wiped clean, damp areas of the paper towel across the smooth ivory, until all excess tint was removed.

Image #2 - Re-Inked antique scrimshawed whale tooth

Image #3The entire procedure from cleaning to final wipe-down took less than 10-minutes. The re-inked image is improved, but not as dark as I would like. Using an oil-based tint may very well provide darker tint in the scribe lines, but removing the tint from the polished areas will require considerably more effort.

Because Cotman is a water-based paste tint, it can be completely removed with a little water & a soft tooth brush.

Cotman Lamp Black #337 is a Gum Arabic & Dextrin-based, water-soluble, tube paste tint.

Douglass Moody

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  1. Douglass Moody says:

    When this article was re-posted to a new server, the photos were switched.