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Scrimshaw, Whale's Tooth

Decorative Arts

One of the main sources of lighting fuel in the colonial period and well into the nineteenth century was whale oil. Consequently, hunting for whales was an important part of the economy. The long ocean voyages that characterized this enterprise afforded the sailors a great deal of free time, during which they sometimes made crafts out of unusable parts of the whale such as the teeth. In nautical slang, scrimshaw denotes any precision mechanical work.

MAKER Unknown
MEDIUM Whale's tooth
  • Possible Place Made: United States
  • DATES ca. 1830-1870
    DIMENSIONS 5 5/8 x 2 1/8 in. (14.3 x 5.4 cm)  (show scale)
    COLLECTIONS Decorative Arts
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
    CREDIT LINE Brooklyn Museum Collection
    RIGHTS STATEMENT Creative Commons-BY
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    CAPTION Unknown. Scrimshaw, Whale's Tooth, ca. 1830-1870. Whale's tooth, 5 5/8 x 2 1/8 in. (14.3 x 5.4 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Museum Collection, X613.2. Creative Commons-BY
    IMAGE side, X613.2_side1_bw_SL4.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph
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    CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Sperm whale's tooth with engraved decoration rubbed with black pigment. On one side, two masted sailing vessel flying American flags; on other, lighthouse with two vessels in background and four flying birds. Condition: Good. Chips around inner edge at base, several cracks working up from base.
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    Scrimshaw, Whales Tooth