Here's Documentation Assistant, Jason Lok with an introduction to scrimshaw.
Whaling was a very popular occupation in Hull in the beginning of the 19th century. At its height, Hull had about 2,000 men employed in the whaling industry and had the largest whaling fleet in Britain.
Staying out in the sea could be boring for the seamen, over time they had come up with the hobby of scrimshaw. 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. This practice could be dated as far back as the 17th century in Europe.
For the whalers in the 19th century, scrimshaw was mainly done on whaling bone or teeth, that is because they were only the by-products of the whaling industry, the most valuable part of a whale was its blubber, which could be turned into whale oil, an important material during the Industrial Revolution.
Scrimshaw is a word that holds a wide definition, it ranges from decorative art to functional tools made by whalers. This can be shown in the scrimshaw collection of the Hull Museums Service, which has one of the best scrimshaw collections in Britain. It has a variety of scrimshaw, from different engravings on sperm whale teeth to a bench made of whalebone.
The decline of the whaling industry at the end of the 19th century had brought scrimshaw along with it as well, after all it was a by-product of the whaling industry. The art of scrimshaw suffered another blow when the Endangered Species Act was passed, which restricted the harvest and sale of ivory to bolster the population of ivory-bearing animals.
A part of the legacy of scrimshaw now resides in the Hull Museum collection, if you are interested, please feel free to visit our website to look at more scrimshaw!