Scrimshaw collection




The scrimshaw collection includes over a hundred carved or etched bone items such as thimbles, needle and pin cases, figurines, crochet hooks, pie crimpers, glove stretchers, cribbage boards, handles for various items such as umbrellas, flat panels with pictures, walking sticks, sailor's fids, pipes, watch stands, dice and drinking cups, powder horns, dominoes, button hooks, dice, toothbrushes, shoe horns, spatulas, a manicure set, and stockwhip handle. Scrimshaw is produced by engraving, carving, inlaying or assembling bone mainly from marine mammals. Walrus tusks, dolphin and pilot whale jaw bones and other animal bone were used, though sometimes ivory or shells. The most common form of scrimshaw and best represented in this collection are sperm whale teeth. Many are finely decorated with images of women, whaling scenes or other memories from home.

To pass the time on long sea voyages of often several years, sailors on whaling vessels would craft presents for friends and family, souvenirs or momentos and sometimes scrimshaw to sell. They carved functional items from whale bone or engraved artistic designs on whale teeth, often reflecting scenes of their everyday life or memories from home. Sailors commonly made a variety of items relating to domestic sewing including needles, bobbins, fids, crochet hooks and needle cases, mostly as presents for female loved ones. The collection includes articles from North American whalers, where scrimshaw originated and was most common. Australian provenanced items are rare. Several are included in the Liddy scrimshaw collection, which forms a major part of the collection.

Some material included in this collection may be subject to copyright

By appointment only, please contact ANMM

Parts of this collection are digitised and available on the ANMM web site


1840-2000; Carvings; Scrimshaws


Coverage Spatial

United States; Australia

Coverage Temporal



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2012-05-30 23:40