Two Scrimshaw Whale Teeth, ca. 1840

Value (2008) | $25,000 Retail

These pieces came from my dad's family. I'm about, oh, 13th generation. The first member of this line... ...came over in about 1630. They ended up in Providence, Rhode Island. These were part of my Providence heritage of a lot of seafarers, and they've always been mine-- given to me. I can remember as a little kid having 'em.

Do you have any idea when they may have been executed?

All I know is that they would be post-War of 1812... ...because this is a depiction of a battle of the sea with the British and the United States.

Right, it's the USS frigate President and the British ship Endymion. These were probably done after 1830 and before 1850. There's an 1830 edition of a book called Bowen's Naval Monument, which was published in Boston, and the scenes from the War of 1812 from that book are often copied on scrimshaw. I find these two teeth quite interesting in that this one on your side is beautifully carved with a scene identical to one in Bowen's Naval Monument.


But then you start looking and there are little extra details in the lower section here and then a very interesting inscription underneath, and it tells about the Endymion and the USS President. That's not the exact inscription from the engraving, but it probably relates to some of the text in, uh, Bowen's Monument. An interesting thing that I noticed is: at first, I thought these teeth were probably carved by two different carvers, but it's now my opinion that the scene from Bowen's was probably carved by one person, and then the little extra details were added by another person who wasn't quite as formal a scrimshander, and he'd be more country or more folk art, which is what we, we like so much. This tooth is done entirely by the folk artist. It has the American ship with the flag, an American eagle over here, this is probably a picture of home, and then there is this wonderful exotic plant here, but the greatest thing, I think, about this tooth is when you turn it over, there is this wonderful inscription. You have to remember that these sailors would spend a great deal of time at sea hunting the, the whales. A voyage may last over two years, so they had a lot of time to think about home, and when I saw this one and the wonderful motto on it, it tells the romance of the sea and the sailors who were out to sea so long. The inscription is: "When the evening sun declineth upon the silent seas Evening stars so sweetly shineth Then dear girl, think of me." These teeth do have a little bit of a condition problem. There are some chips here, which I would not do anything about. It's sort of normal to find them. And where the two teeth go together, they're a beautiful combination that have always been together. I would never separate them. And in my opinion, the retail value is $25,000.

Wow. I'll be honest with you. They're worth more than that to me.

Appraisal Details

Northeast Auctions
Portsmouth, NH
Appraised value (2008)
$25,000 Retail
Chattanooga, TN (July 19, 2008)
Folk Art

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