Ingenious Contrivances, Curiously Carved: Scrimshaw in the New Bedford Whaling Museum
by Stuart M. Frank
Purchase online via The White Whale
By the middle of the nineteenth century, the New England port of New Bedford was among the richest cities in America. Its wealth was derived from a single source – whale oil, the “fossil fuel” of the early Industrial Revolution, providing light and lubrication to the burgeoning economy of young America. The New Bedford whaling fleet was the most numerous, adventurous, and far-ranging in the world, setting off on voyages that often lasted for three or four years and extended as far as the Antarctic and Siberia.
When the whalemen were not engaged in hunting whales or routine maintenance, some of their time was spent carving materials harvested from the whales themselves: the teeth and bones of sperm whales, baleen from right and bowhead whales, and walrus tusks acquired by barter from Native people in the Arctic. The resulting practical and decorative objects, often intricately carved and carefully crafted, would provide mementos and treasured souvenirs for loved ones back home, at voyage end. The range of the work is extraordinary – not simply the decorated sperm whale teeth that the word “scrimshaw” ordinarily brings to mind, but also crimpers and canes, umbrellas and swifts. Anything that could be made of ivory and bone was considered fair game.
The collection at the New Bedford Whaling Museum is the largest, most varied, and most representative in the world. And in this book, with the subject’s leading expert, curator Stuart M. Frank as your guide, you will be introduced to every possible permutation of these whalemen’s fancies. The 700 detailed and dramatic photographs are stunning, the captions revealing, and the stories behind the objects themselves compelling. If the arts of the sea and the sailor hold any interest, this comprehensive survey from the best collection in existence will keep you enthralled and is surely destined to be considered the last word on the subject for decades to come.
Related exhibition Scrimshaw: Shipboard Art of the Whaler
Dr. Stuart M. Frank was Senior Curator at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, Executive Director Emeritus of the Kendall Whaling Museum, and is Founder/Director of the Scrimshaw Forensics Laboratory®.