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A4652 Scrimshaw, depicting three masted ship, dolphin jaw / dolphin tooth, maker unknown, Australia, 1870-1900. Click to enlarge.

Dolphin jaw with scrimshaw decoration

Made in Australia, Oceania, 1870-1900.
Lower mandible (jaw) of a dolphin, cream in colour, with scrimshaw decoration on both sides of the jaw, of a triple masted schooner, the "Annie Hill" sailing in front of a hilly coastline. Half of the teeth are missing or badly chipped at the top. There is some black discolouration on the surface of the jaw, especially around the teeth and towards the back.

Summary

Object No.

A4652

Object Statement

Scrimshaw, depicting three masted ship, dolphin jaw / dolphin tooth, maker unknown, Australia, 1870-1900

Physical Description

Lower mandible (jaw) of a dolphin, cream in colour, with scrimshaw decoration on both sides of the jaw, of a triple masted schooner, the "Annie Hill" sailing in front of a hilly coastline. Half of the teeth are missing or badly chipped at the top. There is some black discolouration on the surface of the jaw, especially around the teeth and towards the back.

Marks

A faint inscription reads 'ANNIE HILL / IN COOK'S STRAIT'.

Dimensions

Height

60 mm

Width

150 mm

Production

Made

Australia, Oceania 1870-1900

Notes

The scrimshaw decoration on this jaw was carved in Australia around 1870-1900.

The technique of scrimshaw involved the scraping, filing and grinding of the object, before honing the surface (but in the case of teeth and bone this was done with shark skin). With a smooth medium on which to work, the sailors used a variety of tools (awls, gimlets, files, sail needles and knives) to incise the surface. Once the desired pattern had been completed, it was rubbed over with soot, tar, Indian ink or lamp black. Polishing removed the excess colour leaving a graphic representation of fine black lines.

Illustrations from books or journals were traced onto the surface by pricking the outline of the picture with a pin. The dots were then joined up with incisions, and the process finished as usual. Objects produced by these methods were many and varied and include crimping wheels for decorating pie crusts, ink stands, cuff links, studs, walking sticks and knife handles. Teeth, bones, shells and wood were also lathe-turned, carved and skilfully inlaid to make cribbage boards and work boxes. The subjects depicted were as varied as the objects they adorn. Whaling scenes were popular, as were sailing ships, figures of gentlemen and ladies, and scenes taken from illustrations of classical subjects. For more information see: Keenan, Annette,. "Scrimshaw" in A Companion to the Mint Collection (Sydney, 1982).

History

Notes

Scrimshandering or scrimshaw as we know it, is a craft of the whale men. The origin of the word is obscure. It refers both to the technique and the finished product. Essentially, it is the carving or engraving of bone, ivory, shells, wood or any other suitable material. Contrary to popular belief, the craft is not confined to engraving on whale teeth and bone, although in this form it is very common. The originators of scrimshaw decoration is unknown, although suggestions range from the Eskimos to the South Sea Islanders. However, the craft with which we are familiar today developed on board whaling ships where the equipment was already at hand: sail needles, jack knives and other metal tools; whale or walrus teeth and bones; Indian ink or lamp black; illustrations from old newspapers and plenty of leisure time. During the course of a whaling voyage, which sometimes lasted up to five years, there would be long periods of calm when the ship was waiting for a wind to take it to the whaling ground. To while away the time, sailors would occupy themselves with various shipboard crafts like rope or string work, or wood carving. They would also draw or trace pictures onto bone from whales already caught and processed. For more information see: Keenan, Annette,. "Scrimshaw" in A Companion to the Mint Collection (Sydney, 1982).

Source

Credit Line

MAAS Collection, 1955

Acquisition Date

18 July 1955

Cite this Object

Harvard

Dolphin jaw with scrimshaw decoration 2020, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 11 August 2020, <https://ma.as/181722>

Wikipedia

{{cite web |url=https://ma.as/181722 |title=Dolphin jaw with scrimshaw decoration |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=11 August 2020 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}

Incomplete

This object record is currently incomplete. Other information may exist in a non-digital form. The Museum continues to update and add new research to collection records.

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