Scrimshaw Walrus Tusk, ca. 1850

Value (2005) | $35,000 Auction$50,000 Auction

It's been handed down through the generations from my mother's side of the family. And it originally came out of New England, out of Connecticut. But they emigrated first to Illinois and then ultimately to Texas.

Now, were they whalers?

The family was in the shipbuilding business, and they were also involved in the whaling trade in the early days of this country. And one of the sailors brought this back to one of the girls in the family.

You think it was an engagement present?

It may well have been, I don't know.

What do you know about the decoration?

The piece is a walrus tusk. It depicts the whale ship Almira. She was reputedly the longest-lived whaling ship in the history of the American fleet, and she was laid down about 1824, I believe, and disappeared into the ice in the 1870s-- I think 1876, I'm not certain on that.

So that would have been up in the Pacific, right?

Yes, yes. She probably came from Alaska.

Now, do you know anything about this portrait of the woman here?

I really do not.

Well, these portraits, the sailors would take Godey's Lady's magazines on board with them so they'd have pictures of pretty girls, and then they would draw the design. Actually, they'd even take pins sometimes and put little pinholes in the piece of ivory so that they could do the scrimshaw work. Now, one of the most interesting things about this piece is that it has this wonderful sperm whale on the back, which you rarely find. It's absolutely a magnificent piece. And it being a walrus tusk, it had to be a whale ship working in the Pacific. But this is definitely sailor art and really a wonderful example-- one of the best I've seen for a walrus tusk. Now, scrimshaw has gotten very expensive lately, and on something as nice as this it may bring more at auction than it actually would bring in an antique shop.


In fact, this one at auction would have a value between $35,000 and $50,000.

Oh? Thank you, sir.

Well, thank you for bringing it in.

Appraisal Details

Northeast Auctions
Portsmouth, NH
Appraised value (2005)
$35,000 Auction$50,000 Auction
Houston, TX (July 16, 2005)
19th Century

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