We imagine that lonely seamen, on 19th century whaling voyages lasting 3-5 years, carved these artful scrimshaw images of their wives or sweethearts at home. They would smooth a whale tooth or bone with pumice, then polish it. Seafaring scenes or portraits of loved ones were etched in with crude sailing needles. The ink, which made the image come to life, was candle black, soot, tobacco juice or gunpowder, mixed with oil. The word “scrimshaw” may have come from a Dutch or English nautical term meaning “to waste time”. Sailors had a lot of time on their hands for this leisure activity aboard ship. The Museum has 24 pieces of scrimshaw in its collection.
Location: H1, Whitehouse alcove rear