Scrimshaw is the art of carving on marine mammal ivory primarily made by 19th-century whalers while at sea. These objects include purely decorative engravings and sculptures, as well as functioning tools used by sailors themselves.
The United States was the predominant whaling nation by the mid-19th century, producing whale oil and baleen. Though not a primary port for whaling expeditions like New Bedford, MA and Nantucket, MA, New York City served as an important recruiting ground for crews and a major marketing center for whaling products. Scrimshaw remains one of the most enduring artifacts of the era of Yankee whaling.
The Seaport Museum holds a remarkable collection of scrimshaw from the mid 19th century and early 20th century, including engraving on natural whale teeth and tusks, swifts, busks, pie crimpers, canes, clothespins, ditty boxes, and needles.
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