Antique Whale Tooth Scrimshaw


Please call or email if you have authentic antique scrimshaw for sale,
one piece or an entire collection.

Please include photos with your email.

Buying antique scrimshaw: Engraved teeth,
Nautical Canes/Walking Sticks (made from antique whale ivory,
antique whalebone, tropical shells and woods
acquired during 19th century whaling voyages)


Pie Crimpers/Jagging Wheels, Seamers, Busks, Bodkins, Fids, Swifts
and any other examples of 19th century whaler's art

*studying, researching, consulting, collecting and specializing
exclusively in the field of antique scrimshaw, since 1973*

www.angelfire.com/ca/antiquescrimshaw OR www.antiquescrimshaw.net













Scrimshaw is a form of folk art practiced by whalemen
in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Some scrimshaw was also produced
by those on shore
who had access to whale products.
Makers of scrimshaw were called scrimshanders.
They engraved images on
ivory, whalebone, whale teeth, wood and shells,
and carved items of bone and exotic woods.
Typical works include decorated
whale teeth
and practical items such as napkin rings,
canes, knitting needles, pie crimpers or jagging wheels
(for cutting pastry),
bodkins (for embroidery), swifts (yarn winders)
and tools of all sorts for shipboard use.

Whaling voyages averaged nearly four years.
To relieve the boredom of long periods of time
between whale sightings, whalemen often played cards,
checkers, and wrote in personal journals.
Those with an artistic bent did woodcarving,
sketching, knotwork, and made scrimshaw.

The taking of a whale provided scrimshanders with plenty of material.
Sperm whales provided teeth; all whales provided bone;
bowhead and right whales provided baleen, a black, flexible material
found in the mouths of these whales. Walrus tusks were also
decorated by whalers who ventured into Northern waters.

The quality of scrimshaw ranges from
crude scratchings on teeth or bone
to exquisite examples of fine craftsmanship
with the majority falling somewhere in between.

(nicely summed up by Judith Lund)



SCRIMSHAW GALLERY

KEEP SCROLLING DOWN THIS PAGE
TO SEE A GREAT VARIETY OF SCRIMSHAW









19th c. Australian Whaling and Scrimshaw



  19th. c. Whaleships



  Antique Scrimshaw in Hawaii



Scrimshaw Canes and Crimpers,
a Nantucket collection



"That's good scrimshaw."



"Scrimshaw Treasure Map"


Tooth or Bone?



1964 "Dateline Boston" SCRIMSHAW & Milton Delano



TABUA (pronounced "Tambua")



song: SCRIMSHAW by the whippet beans



A 1956 photo of the Armstrong collection.
The Armstrong's began collecting in the early 1930's




SCRIMSHAW PIE CRIMPERS/JAGGING WHEELS

c. 1850, American, figural pie crimper in the form of a shark
with a fluted, whale ivory wheel all carved from
the center core of a large sperm whale tooth
depicting one of the whaler's dreaded nemeses at sea.







mid 19th. century, all whale ivory, pie crimper



architecturally carved crimpers by the same hand,   see Flayderman, pg. 148










More on Pie Crimpers

MV Museum


********

1871 Arctic Whaling Disaster

The Whaling Disaster of 1871 was an incident off the northern Alaskan coast in which a fleet of 40 American whaling ships were trapped in the Arctic ice in late 1871 and subsequently abandoned. It dealt a serious blow to the American whaling industry, already in decline. Thirty-three whaleships were lost as ice closed in around them before they could sail south at summer's end. Twenty-two of the ships were from New Bedford and represented a loss of $1,600,000 (approximately $30,311,989 in 2011 dollars). All 1,219 people aboard the ships evacuated in small whaleboats with a three-month supply of provisions, crossed 70 miles (110 km) of ocean, and were eventually brought to safety by the seven ships which had escaped the ice to the south. Amazingly, there were no casualties. The names of the vessels lost in the 1871 disaster were:

Bark Roman of New Bedford
Bark Concordia of New Bedford
Ship Gay Head of New Bedford
Bark George of New Bedford
Ship John Wells of New Bedford
Bark Massachusetts of New Bedford
Bark J.D. Thompson of New London, CT
Ship Contest of New Bedford
Bark Emily Morgan of New Bedford
Ship Champion of Edgartown, MA
Bark Henry Taber of New Bedford
Bark Elizabeth Swift of New Bedford
Ship Florida of New Bedford
Bark Oliver Crocker of New Bedford
Bark Navy of New Bedford
Ship Reindeer of New Bedford
Bark Seneca of New Bedford
Bark George Howland of New Bedford
Bark Fanny of New Bedford
Bark Carlotta of San Francisco, CA
Bark Paiea of Honolulu
Bark Monticello of New London, CT
Brig Kohola of Honolulu
Bark Eugenia of New Bedford
Ship Julian of Honolulu
Bark Awashonks of New Bedford
Bark Thomas Dickason of New Bedford
Bark Minerva of New Bedford
Ship William Rotch of New Bedford
Brig Victoria of San Francisco, CA
Ship Mary of Edgartown
Brig Comet of Honolulu


Virtually every item aboard ship, every possession that was not 100% essential to human survival
was abandoned and left behind on the doomed whaleships.

This nearly 8 inch long, solid walrus ivory pie crimper is an
exceedingly rare artifact that survived and now commemorates that event.






19th century
SCRIMSHAW CANES/WALKING STICKS















*****

7 inch by 3.5 inch scrimmed tooth depicting a man & his walking stick
in formal "Sea Side Dress" circa 1830


****

These are not perambulatory aids, but items of fashion,
individuality, power, status and profession.
A cane was designed to be worn rather than used.
It showed who you were
and how you viewed yourself.
Whether you sported a jewelled Faberge cane
or one of whalebone
fashioned by a sailor on a long sea voyage,
your cane made a powerful statement.
Consequently, these items are intensely personal.
Each cane is redolent with the history of
bygone individuals and their times.

Geoffrey Breeze
* *



* * *
c. 1850 Nantucket eel/serpent scrimshaw walking stick
carved of panbone, baleen & whale tooth ivory








Whaler-made Sculpture








Clifford Ashley in 'The Yankee Whaler' published in the 1930's,
which has long been considered a definitive text, called Scrimshaw
"...the only important indigenous folk art,
except that of the Indians, we have ever had in America".

Although it is most often associated with the Yankee whale-men of the 19th century
the scrimshanders art was embraced and extensively practiced by
the British, Australian and Portuguese mariners as well.



SWIFT





BUSKS





BODKINS




SEAMER




COCONUT DIPPER






"I really don't know why it is that all of us are so committed to the sea, except I think it is because in addition to the fact that the sea changes and the light changes, and ships change, it is because we all came from the sea. And it is an interesting biological fact that all of us have, in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch it, we are going back from whence we came."
~John F. Kennedy





19th c. SCRIMSHAW SPERM WHALE TEETH









"Very commonly you will find paint marks or dots
on genuine scrimshaw
as the ships were constantly repainted at sea.
Scattered paint is often found with careful examination."

(source: Dr. Jack Chang)







A Godey's Lady tooth c.1840

{this whaler-made, scrimshaw tooth has been matched (a great rarity)
with its original source illustrations discovered in the February & May, 1840,
issues of Godey's Lady's Book}














When they were "green" or recently caught, sperm whale teeth were not difficult to inscribe. They acquire their brittleness and hardness with exposure to the air. However, the surface of the ivory tooth was rigid and tough and required a great deal of smoothing and polishing before it could be worked on. The author of Moby Dick, Herman Melville, referred to the scrimshaw producing implements of the whale men: Some of them have boxes of dentistical implements especially intended for the skrimshandering business. Either a sail needle with a bone or wood handle or a jack knife with its point ground to the proper size was used and slowly the unhurried artisan pricked and cut his design. Days and weeks slipped into months before the task was completed, but time meant little to the whale men, there was no need for haste on a long sea voyage. Often elaborate border hatching consumed months of meticulous effort. To complete the job, inking in the incised lines was accomplished by thumb and palm using ordinary black India ink or native dyes from South Sea Islands. Sometimes varied substitutes would be used derived from ship's paint or tar and often soot from the try works was applied over the tooth to produce the desired effect.


(source: literature/Cinoa)




























(Harper's illustration source: Dr. Jack Chang)







Painting: Napoleon at the Great St. Bernard Pass
Date: 1801
Artist: Jacques-Louis David, 1748-1825


In the early nineteenth century, scrimshaw engraving
had tended to be graceful and calligraphic
and carving was trim and spare.
Later, engraving became denser and more rigid,
and carving often became complex to the point of rococo.



N.S. FINNEY (1813-1879)



Though the 1820's through the 1860's was the golden age of pictorial scrimshaw,
the genre continued even during the decline of the whaling industry
into the last part of the 19th century and beyond.
By 1870, N. S. Finney, a native of Plymouth, Massachusetts,
who had been a whaleman in the 1840's,
set himself up in San Francisco and engraved
walrus tusks and whale teeth, on commission,
becoming the first person to take scrimshandering professional.
* *


Abe Warner's Cobweb Palace, 1856 thru 1897, known for accepting scrimshaw
from sailors passing through San Francisco's Barbary Coast.
Abe often took scrimshaw in trade for food & drink.
Note the many pieces of walrus tusk scrimshaw
due to the decades of Arctic whaling voyages from (and back to) the port of San Francisco
during the 3rd and 4th quarters of the 19th century.
One of N.S. Finney's most masterful pairs of scrimshaw walrus tusks can be seen
straddling either side of the mirror directly behind Abe.




Questions about your antique scrimshaw?
email Gregg Hurwitz at bluewave3@earthlink.net




THOMAS & CALEB ALBRO









NAVAL ENGAGEMENT ENGRAVER
Pieces by this mid 19th c. British, whaler/scrimshander
often depict smoke filled, naval battle scenes on the one side
and a polychrome whaling scene on the opposite side.








BANKNOTE ENGRAVER








This piece is, unfortunately, in poor condition.



William A. Gilpin
The Ceres A artisan




EDWARD BURDETT (1805-1833)





FREDERICK MYRICK/Susan's Teeth (1808-1862)

















20th century copies








JAMES BUTE (tooth c.1834),
a private in the Royal Marines
aboard the H.M.S. Beagle with Charles Darwin
when the ship surveyed the Galapagos Islands







ALBATROSS ARTISAN








The Barbara Johnson Collection
was the largest private collection in the world, not only of scrimshaw,
but of everything relating to whales, whaling and whalers.
It is improbable that its like will ever be dispersed again.

Great care was taken in selecting scrimshaw for the collection,
both to screen out the fakes and the non-scrimshaw bone and ivory,
and also to select discriminately from the great quantity of scrimshaw
that was coming on to the market at the time Barbara Johnson began collecting.
The task was particularly difficult as scrimshaw has no history,
almost no known artists because it is seldom signed,
and no clear scheme of dating.
The literature was mostly guesswork,
so the only tangible points of reference were scrimshaw
in museums or in the hands of dealers,
and one's own ability to learn from mistakes.

source: Walter Darby Bannard Archive







Cenotaph c. 1850 with whaler's memorial near the top



whaleships docked at New Bedford

Merrill's Wharf was the largest of seven new wharves
built in New Bedford between 1841 and 1849.


SCRIMSHAW-TABUA

"Sperm-whale teeth were highly prized in Polynesia.
In the Fiji Islands the characteristic manifestation is the tabua,
signifying wealth and status for the owner. It was usually a whole tooth,
polished, pierced, and hung as a pendant of braided plant fiber.
Oil and smoke from council fires
often enhanced development of a deep amber patina.
Whalemen and China traders calling at Fiji
found that whale teeth were so valuable for barter
that they were sometimes willing to part with good scrimshaw."
(Dr. Stuart Frank, More Scrimshaw Artists, pg. 125)

Shown here are three detailed photos of one such example.



It is not known precisely when Fijians began using the tooth of the sperm whale as a precious gift and item of exchange, but it was certainly well before sustained contact with the west began around 1800, and may even date back to the earliest occupation of the islands over 3,000 years ago.

The name for a whale's tooth, tabua, is the same throughout the Fiji Islands, originally meant 'sacred object'. Fijians have no traditions of whaling, so it seems that tabua first came from stranded whales, either in Fiji, or in nearby Tonga. Tongans used the relative abundance of sperm whales in their waters to great advantage, bartering tabua for Fijian products as diverse as sandalwood and enormous voyaging canoes, a trade that lasted well into the nineteenth century.

The incidence of whaling ships in the Pacific during the nineteenth century caused a larger supply of whale teeth to become available. At first these were introduced into Fiji by Tongans who had a better access to them, but later, early 19th century European & American whaling ships brought sperm whale teeth as highly valued trade items. Tabua were the price of life and death and indispensable adjuncts to every proposal, whether for marriage, alliance, intrigue, request, apology, appeal to the gods or sympathy with the bereaved.

The traditional Fijian manner of preparing a whale's tooth was to stain and/or smoke it to give it the highly esteemed rich color then drill a small hole at either end and attach cord of braided coconut fiber or pandanus leaves. Occasionally some teeth were polished first. Often though, they were left in their raw, un-polished state prior to staining/smoking. After being thus prepared, it was then suitable for use in formal ceremonies of welcome, funeral gatherings, requests for marriage or land, formal apologies, installation of a chief and so on. When being presented or accepted, it is held in one hand with its cord in the other.







How can you tell the difference between antique and contemporary?
The engraving and/or carving of the piece certainly tells much of the story.
You can also glean a good deal of information
from a piece's patina and surface wear,
revealing information about age and elements
it either was or was not exposed to
(i.e. human handling, smoke, direct sunlight, humidity or the lack of it, etc.)
These are some of the factors that can yield valuable insights
when evaluating a piece of scrimshaw.



Study, research, talk to those with scrimshaw knowledge and experience.
Look at as much scrimshaw as you can.
You can develop an eye for what is:
antique or contemporary,
extremely well done, average or poorly done work,
genuine scrimshaw or a plastic/resin reproduction.












AS SEEN IN:



Please email if you have antique scrimshaw for sale.
*Buying antique: engraved teeth, nautical canes/walking sticks,
pie crimpers/jagging wheels, seamers,
busks, bodkins, fids, swifts
and any other examples of 19th century whaler's art*




GREGG HURWITZ*ANTIQUE SCRIMSHAW
(www.angelfire.com/ca/antiquescrimshaw & www.antiquescrimshaw.net website 1995-2014)
All rights reserved.
No part of this internet site may be reproduced
in any form without permission from the owner.
Image display permission granted via submission.


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