Reference Books for the Scrimshaw Collector

In life, you can learn from your own mistakes & successes, or learn from the mistakes & successes of others. Collectors fall into this same dilemma, but the smart collector learns from his more successful peers. Eventually, these successful collectors are considered experts in their field, and many of them write & illustrate books. Scrimshaw collectors are no different.

Most of the books written by scrimshaw experts are centered around particular museum collections, themes, specific scrimshanders, specific eras, particular regions, etc. Many of these books are now out of print, and have become classic references within the field of scrimshaw. Luckily, most are still available on the Internet. Here is a list of pertinent reference about scrimshaw, starting with the most popular.

Scrimshaw and Scrimshanders, Whales and Whalemen” (1972), by E. Norman Flayderman

Scrimshaw and Scrimshanders, Whales and Whalemen” (1972), by E. Norman Flayderman

“Scrimshaw and Scrimshanders, Whales and Whalemen” (1972), by E. Norman Flayderman, self published (hardbound). Considered the bible of reference books and the pioneering comprehensive guide to scrimshaw, “Scrimshaw and Scrimshanders, Whales and Whalemen” places the genre in historical context as occupational art. Nicely peppered with quotations from the whalemen’s own shipboard journals and diaries, and profusely illustrated. Also includes such non-scrimshaw analogues as powder horns and French prisoner-of-war carvings.

“John F. Kennedy – Scrimshaw Collector” (1964 & 1969)m by Clare Barnes Jr., published by Little, Brown & Co (hardbound). This 9-inch x 11-inch book is loaded with full-plate color photographs of the 34 scrimshawed whale teeth & three scrimshaw-decorated walrus tusks, that JFK had on display throughout the Oval Office in the White House. Most of the scrimshawed items are antique, but one contemporary scrimshawed 9.5-inch bull Sperm whale tooth by Milton Delano, depicting the Presidential Seal of Office, held the place of honor on the right-hand corner of Kennedy’s desk. Mrs. Kennedy placed this tooth in the President’s coffin just before it was sealed for burial. An exceptional book of excellent scrimshaw.

The Scrimshander” (1975), by William Gilkerson

The Scrimshander” (1975), by William Gilkerson

“The Scrimshander” (1975), by William Gilkerson, published by Troubador Press (hard & softbound). Without a doubt, William Gilkerson is recognized as the Benvenuto Cellini of scrimshaw, but instead of Cellini’s silver & gold sculptures, Gilkerson’s choice of matrix is whale ivory. Every page of this 120-page book is beautifully illustrated with Gilkerson’s sketches and photographs of his scrimwork and photographs of historic scrimshaw. The author entitled Chapter 1 as The Old Scrimshaw, and is devoted to traditional Yankee scrimshaw. Chapter 2 is entitled The New Scrimshaw, and focuses on scrimwork completed since 1924. Chapter 3 deals with both the endangered Sperm whale, and the endangered art form of scrimshaw. The next six chapters are about the author’s scrimwork subjects, and are entitled: Whalers; Ship Portraits; The Crafted Artifact; Fantasy & Imagery; Pirates; and Tools & Techniques.

“Whaling and the Art of Scrimshaw” (1976), by Charles R. Meyer, published by David McKay Company, Inc. (hardbound). A brief history of whaling, which leads directly to the development of scrimshaw; 271 pages, with scores of photographs.

“Nautical Antiques” (2007), by Robert W.D. Ball, published by Schiffer Publishing, Ltd. (softbound). This 9-inch x 11.25-inch, 240-page book is choc-full of black& white photos of scrimshawed whale teeth, as well as whalebone & ivory jagging wheels, fids, bodkins, seam rubbers, swifts, busks, canes, gameboxes, toys, ship blocks, belaying pins, candlesticks, sewing stands, ditty boxes, water dippers, logbook stamps, ship models, etc. Binnacles, harpoons, figureheads, actant, ship lanterns, baskets and many other type of nautical collectibles are also pictured.

A Treasury of American Scrimshaw” (1997), by Michael McManus

A Treasury of American Scrimshaw” (1997), by Michael McManus

“A Treasury of American Scrimshaw” (1997), by Michael McManus, published by Penguin Books (hardbound). One of the best in-depth & well-illustrated studies of both utilitarian and decorative scrimshaw objects created by American whaleman of the 19th century; 150 pages and profusely illustrated with large, color photographs.

“A Mariner’s Fancy – The Whaleman’s Art of Scrimshaw” (1992), by Nina Hellman, published by South Street Seaport Museum (softbound). This book catalogues a portion of the exemplary collection of scrimshawed objects of the South Street Seaport Museum in NYC. Nina is a world-class historian of scrimshaw & nautical arts; 95 pages with many black & white and color photographs.

“Scrimshaw – The Whaler’s Legacy” (1993), by Martha Lawrence, Schiffer Publishing, Ltd (hardbound). An extremely well-illustrated book of scrimshaw pieces from the Nantucket Historical Association, and the private collections of Paul Madden, Ray De Lucia, Curt Nyquist, Charlie Manghis and others; 227 pages and richly illustrated with large color photographs.

“Scrimshaw at Mystic Seaport” (1958 & 1966), by Edouard A. Stackpole, published by the marine Historical Association, Mystic MA (hardbound). The Mystic Seaport Museum houses one of the finest scrimshaw collections, compiled of four private collections and occasional acquisitions. For many years, Stackpole was an enthusiastic curator of the Mystic collection; 53 pages and several black & white photographs.

“Man and the Sea – Portuguese Scrimshaw Artists” (2003), by Joao A. Gomes Vieira, published by Intermezzo-Audiovisuals, Lda. (hardbound). This 9.5-inch x 12-inch, 200-page book contains scores of beautifully detailed, color photographs. Each page of text has one column in Portuguese, and one column in English. The lives & scrimwork of dozens of scrimshanders from the Azores and Madeira islands groups are discussed and compared. A truly unique and incredibly beautiful book.

“The Scrimshaw Connection” (1982), by Bob Engnath, published by The House of Muzzelloading (softcover). 8.5 x 11-in., 185 Pages. After the renaissance of scrimshaw in the 1970s, master scrimshander Bob Engnath put together this compilation of the then currently known scrimshaw artists and their works. Although this publication includes fascinating reading on the development of the scrimshaw art form from the mostly crude work done by sailors to the highly refined engravings developed by artists pushing the art form in places like Bellingham, Wash., and Hawaii, it is primarily the first of two attempts to locate and showcase these artists and their work. Filled with scrimshaw pictures! This is an absolute must-have for any collector of contemporary scrimshaw. It includes profiles on many of yesterday’s and today’s top scrimshaw artists. Out of print and near impossible to find.

“The Second Scrimshaw Connection” (1985), by Bob Engnath, published by The House of Muzzelloading (softcover). 8.5 x 11-in., 243 Pages. The follow-up to his first book, Bob improved dramatically on this book by listing alphabetically the many new artists that he missed in the first book. Each artist has a short bio and pics showing their current work. Many interesting articles are included about collecting, the art movement and new direction and techniques. Again, loaded with scores of great scrimshaw pictures. This one is better than the first and the two books really need to be acquired and kept together as a set. Out of print and somewhat difficult to obtain.

Dictionary of Scrimshaw Artists” (1991), by Stuart M. Frank

Dictionary of Scrimshaw Artists” (1991), by Stuart M. Frank

“Dictionary of Scrimshaw Artists” (1991), by Stuart M. Frank, published by Mystic Seaport Museum (hardbound). This dictionary is certain to have a major and lasting impact on both the study and the collecting of scrimshaw, that ever-popular folk art of whalemen. In his ground-breaking work, Dr. Frank, (at the time) the director of the Kendall Whaling Museum, has cataloged every known and recorded scrimshaw artist active through the early 20th century. His persistent search has unearthed an immense amount of significant, often fascinating, information on these little-known artisans; 9.75-in x 6.5-in, 198 pages, 29 illustrations.

“More Scrimshaw Artists” (1998), by Stuart Frank, published by Mystic Seaport Museum, Inc. (hardbound). 117 articles concern artists presented here for the first time, while 43 articles expand upon entries in the Dictionary. Additional appendices, vessel lists, etc.; 9.75-in x 6.5-in, 189 pages, 25 illustrations.

“The Yankee Scrimshander” (1973), by Fredrika Alexander Burrows, William S. Sullwold Publishing (softbound). A concise introduction to scrimshaw, its history, and craftsmanship, intended for the novice collectors; 79 pages.

“Some Very Handsome Work – Scrimshaw at the Cape Cod National Seashore” (1991), by Kenneth R. Martin, published by Eastern National Park & Monument Association (softcover). Great photographs of antique scrimshaw, most from private collections.

“Graven by the Fisherman Themselves: Scrimshaw in the Mystic Seaport Museum” (1991), by Richard C. Malley, published by Mystic Seaport Museum, Inc. (softbound).

“Scrimshaw – The Whaleman’s Art,” by Robert H. Burgess, published by The Mariners Museum, Newport News, VA (softbound); 22-pages, black & white photos.

Douglass is a WorthPoint Worthologist specializing in scrimshaw.

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