Restoring a Painted Scrimshawed Whale Tooth

In early 2008, I acquired a vintage, 5-inch & 6.2-ounce whale tooth, carved to the shape of an eagle head. Most serious scrimshaw collectors own a carved eagle head, and I was quite pleased to find one for a very reasonable price. Unfortunately, my purchase had been coated with a dark brown paint. I knew that restoration was possible, and most likely going to be slow.

I own a set of Xacto blades, a carbide-tipped scribing needle, and a jewelers loupe, so I was set to painstakingly remove the paint, a tiny bit at a time. I knew that working on the tooth would be very similar to scribing the original image. Needing excellent illumination, I worked outdoors, each evening, for better than a week. After 45-minutes, my neck and hands began to cramp, so an hour was about my daily limit. I now have better empathy for scrimshanders, who often spend 40 to 50-hours on a single-scene scrimshaw.

The first image above shows the partially cleaned side, where a few more hours are needed. The image below shows the nearly restored side, where a bit more “micro” work is needed to remove minute paint flecks.

Eagle 4

Douglass Moody