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Scrimshaw, Whale's Tooth

Decorative Arts

On View: American Identities: A New Look, Making Art: Centennial Era, 5th Floor

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.

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
    ACCESSION NUMBER X613.2
    CREDIT LINE Brooklyn Museum Collection
    RIGHTS STATEMENT Creative Commons-BY
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    CAPTION 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
    "CUR" at the beginning of an image file name means that the image was created by a curatorial staff member. These study images may be digital point-and-shoot photographs, when we don\'t yet have high-quality studio photography, or they may be scans of older negatives, slides, or photographic prints, providing historical documentation of the object.
    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.
    RECORD COMPLETENESS Best (84%)
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    Scrimshaw, Whales Tooth