Discerning Authentic Scrimshawed Whale Teeth From Re-Shaped Bone & Hippo Teeth

Part 2 of 3

Two more types of scrimshaw “reproductions” are re-shaped cow bone and re-shaped hippo teeth, etched and inked to resemble scrimshawed whale teeth. Both are inexpensive and free from international regulation.

The first example is actually two machine-shaped sections of cow bone, clamshell-assembled, with a noticeable seam, skirt-to-skirt, across the tip. This seam is often camouflage by a star mosaic pattern & scribed rope handle [Image #4]. On the first example [Images #1, #2, & #3], both sides depict an Oriental-eyed mermaid: one with arms spread & tear shaped drops falling into the water from her open hands; the second is a 3/4 view sitting profile. Sometimes a fake root cavity is inserted in base opening.

These Chinese mass-produced items are machine-cut to the same size and shape, then machine-scribed with one of a dozen different scenes. The second example is “Ship Spermo Whaling – California 1821” [Image #5]. The interior of bone repro reveals boring grooves associated with machining [Image #6].

The second example is much more deceptive, and is often sold fraudulently as real scrimshawed whale teeth [Image #7]. The material is actually hippopotamus teeth, reshaped to resemble whale teeth.

Hippo teeth are quite abundant, and have become a popular matrix for “cottage industry” scrimshaw in China. Each is hand-shaped, then hand-scribed. No two are identical. The biggest tell is the triangular or kidney shape to the root cavity [Images #8 & #9] and the absents of a “golden crown” [Image #10]. Hippo teeth are quite hard, and therefore brittle. A sharp knife or scribing point will not make a smooth cut on such a hard surface. The etched lines are actually a connected series of chips, similar to scratching glass. The line edges are quite jagged compared to knife-cut whale teeth.

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