Our Documentation Assistant, Jason Lok tells us more about scrimshaw and one particular piece from the Maritime Museum's collection.
Scrimshaw is the name now given to the wide variety of incised, carved and variously decorated items made primarily by those engaged in the whaling industry.
The selected scrimshaw this time is a walrus tusk with an image of a snake, a pot of flowers, a shield containing a thistle surrounded by flags, a shield containing the US flag, a shield showing the crest of Great Britain, and a ship. Inscribed "See snake / Home ar bound / Good by / Joseph Broadley / all is well / fare thee well".
Being the only native source of ivory in Europe, walrus tusks had been used as decorative materials for a long time. One of the most famous pieces made by walrus tusks would be the Lewis Chessmen, which the majority of the pieces currently reside in the British Museum.
Art on walrus tusks was not an exclusive trait from the whalers, it was also an important folk art for the people of the Arctic. People who were native in the Arctic used walrus tusks to make sled runners and tools. As time went on, they also started selling them to Europeans as souvenirs.
Interested in our museum collection? Please feel free to visit our collections website!