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In this second blog, Documentation Assistant - Jason delves into the story of a particular piece 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. Here, we will look at one recent acquisition, a very rare piece of sperm whale tooth scrimshaw that has direct connections to Hull and a named maker.

This particularly piece of scrimshaw has incised images of a mermaid, a sailing ship, a bare breasted woman, plants and a lighthouse on it. On the top of the sperm whale tooth, there is ‘BK TRUELOVE HULL. J.PENN 1852’ inscribed on it.

Sperm whales were a popular target in the 18th and 19th century, especially by American whalers. They were desired for their blubber, and for the spermaceti substance found in their foreheads as it produced superior oil.

Mariners often took inspiration from things around them when making scrimshaws, therefore it is no surprise to see the selected object has a heavy maritime theme to it. The image of the mermaid also demonstrates the mariner’s imagination. ‘Truelove’ is the name of a whaling vessel, which served in the 18th and 19th centuries. Originally made in Philadelphia, it was captured by the British during the American War of Independence and transformed into a whaling vessel based in Hull.

It is amazing to look at the details and the scene that the mariner has created on this scrimshaw. Being a whaler was an extremely dangerous job, with harsh conditions and danger lurking in every corner. The detailed and beautiful scrimshaw has shed light on a different side of the industry, it had also shown a different side of mariners.

Interested in more scrimshaw? Please feel free to visit our Hull Museums Collections website.