Scrimshaw Hippo Tooth, ca. 1840
Appraised Value: $6,000 - $8,000 (2007)
IMAGE: 1 of 1
In this segment, appraiser J. Michael Flanigan says he is uncertain of the identity of the building carved on the side of this hippopotamus tooth. After the episode aired, two viewers wrote in to say that this carving was a depiction of the Old Customs House in Zanzibar — an East African island now part of Tanzania. One of the viewers even matched the building to an illustration in the book Armored Ships (1994), in which author Ian Marshall discusses the history of battleships and their historical relevance to Zanzibar’s harbor.
Appraisal Video: (3:06)
J. Michael Flanigan
Folk Art, Furniture
J. M. Flanigan American Antiques
GUEST: What I know is that it is scrimshaw.
GUEST: And it says, "On the east coast of Africa," and from a river that I could not find on the Internet. I tried doing a lot of research to try to find where it might be from or date it. And, other than that, it was given to me by my mother-in-law.
APPRAISER: Scrimshaw is a kind of a generic term for whaler's art on bone, ivory. So my first look at it was, I thought, you know that was an odd-shaped whale that grew that tooth. And so I'm looking at it a little more closely, and I consulted a few other persons, and it is ivory in the broad sense, but what it really is, is a hippo tooth.
APPRAISER: It's a hippo. And it's a split tooth. It's actually half a tooth. Now, the most important thing you said was, taken off "the east coast of Africa in the River Tumonia." We think of whaling as being in the Pacific Northwest, and we think of it as in the Atlantic, and we think of all the great stories of the whalers. The east coast of Africa is not the first place we look for. But how do you get to the Pacific Northwest from New England? Well, they went around the Cape of Good Hope, at the tip of Africa, up the east coast before they went into the Indian Ocean
APPRAISER: and then into the upper Pacific. And, of course, every time you go a certain distance, you run out of supplies, you have to resupply. So they refuel at this river and take on supplies. They're trading. Now, they haven't started whaling yet. So what are they doing? They're trading goods to the locals. So what I think is that a whaling ship put in on the east coast of Africa, and that "Tumonia" is simply what he heard-- he's doing it phonetically. What the real name of the river is, we're going to have to do a lot more research
APPRAISER: to figure out. Now, we know where it comes from, we know what it's made of. What else do we know that's interesting about it? Well, the cool thing is, of course, we've got this U.S. flag. Very important.
GUEST: Oh, I didn't even see that.
APPRAISER: It's an American flag.
GUEST: I'll be darned.
APPRAISER: Okay, second more important thing is, what do we have here?
APPRAISER: Oh. It's a steamship.
GUEST: A steamboat. It's a paddle wheeler, a side-wheel. That gives us a dating, too-- 1830s, 1840s. So if we just look at it here, we don't see whaling. When we pick it up, and we look in here, here we see the whaling work. And if we turn it over and we look here, this is my mystery moment. I'm really hoping that what I'm looking at here is that this is the whaling resupply stock.
APPRAISER: Oh, okay.
GUEST: So I've got this wonderful kind of tropical scene with the palm trees and all, this great building here. In terms of value: it's not a whale bone; the hippos are a little less collectible; but I think this East-African connection's going to carry it.
APPRAISER: I would be pricing this in the $6,000-to-$8,000 range.
GUEST: Wow... Wow! That's awesome!
APPRAISER: It's nice to have a mother-in-law who's so kind.
GUEST: Oh, I love her! How wonderful, a hippo! I would have never imagined that, ever.
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