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Scrimshaw

Scrimshaw refers to any engraved or carved piece of ivory or bone. It is an artistic tradition that dates back several centuries and comprises a remarkably diverse field of examples that are still attainable at auction today.

The tradition of scrimshaw carving dates back to the late years of the 18th century, when whalers and seamen began taking advantage of the plentiful ivory and bone at sea to render incredibly artful designs. Moving beyond the creation of utilitarian tools, these craftsmen rendered everything from simple relief carvings to inset pigments and fully sculpted forms on both walrus tusks and whale bones. As a result, scrimshaw pieces became a means to commemorate life at sea as well as important cultural events.

The decimation of ivory-bearing animal species over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries led to increasingly stringent regulations on ivory consumption, which, combined with black market and illegal offerings, severely limited any continued tradition of scrimshaw carving. Antique scrimshaw pieces are a fantastic reflection of the past as much as they are reflection of a rarified art form.


Quick Facts

  • Scrimshaw examples are included in some of the world's most prestigious museum collections, including the Smithsonian Museum of Art in Washington, D.C.
  • A pair of scrimshaw whale teeth sold at a Christie's New York auction in 2008 for $49,000
  • The origin of the name "scrimshaw" is unknown, but it did first appear in print in the early 19th century in an alternate spelling of "scrimshonting"

Recommended Items at Auction

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Scrimshaw ladies' corset busk
Nov 20, 9:00 AM EST
Scrimshaw ladies' corset busk
by Horst Auctioneers
Est: $0- $0
$1107 Bids
WHALESHIP JAMES ARNOLD SCRIMSHAW
Oct 26, 10:00 AM EDT
WHALESHIP JAMES ARNOLD SCRIMSHAW
by Everard Auctions and Appraisals
Est: $300- $500
$2504 Bids
SCRIMSHAW WHALE'S TOOTH, SHIP
Oct 24, 11:00 AM EDT
SCRIMSHAW WHALE'S TOOTH, SHIP
by CRN Auctions
Est: $400- $600
$2002 Bids
SCRIMSHAW DECORATED WHALE TOOTH
Nov 13, 11:00 AM EST
SCRIMSHAW DECORATED WHALE TOOTH
by Thomaston Place Auction Galleries
Est: $600- $800
$3252 Bids
EXCEPTIONAL WHALE BONE YARN SWIFT
Oct 24, 11:00 AM EDT
EXCEPTIONAL WHALE BONE YARN SWIFT
by CRN Auctions
Est: $2,500- $3,500
$1,2002 Bids
19TH C. LARGE SCRIMSHAW TUSK
Oct 24, 11:00 AM EDT
19TH C. LARGE SCRIMSHAW TUSK
by CRN Auctions
Est: $500- $700
$2501 Bid
19TH C. LARGE SCRIMSHAW TUSK
Oct 24, 11:00 AM EDT
19TH C. LARGE SCRIMSHAW TUSK
by CRN Auctions
Est: $400- $600
$2001 Bid
Ø AN EXCEPTIONALLY FINE SCRIMSHAW DECORATED WHALE’S TOOTH BY THE BANKNOTE ENGRAVER, CIRCA 1835
Nov 02, 10:00 AM GMT
Ø AN EXCEPTIONALLY FINE SCRIMSHAW DECORATED WHALE’S TOOTH BY THE BANKNOTE ENGRAVER, CIRCA 1835
by Charles Miller Ltd
Est: £3,000- £5,000
£1,5001 Bid
19TH CENTURY SCRIMSHAW WHALE'S TOOTH DEPICTING A
Nov 13, 10:00 AM EST
19TH CENTURY SCRIMSHAW WHALE'S TOOTH DEPICTING A
by Marion Antique Auctions
Est: $800- $1,200
$4001 Bid
TWO EARLY 20TH CENTURY SCRIMSHAW WHALE'S TEETH.
Nov 13, 10:00 AM EST
TWO EARLY 20TH CENTURY SCRIMSHAW WHALE'S TEETH.
by Marion Antique Auctions
Est: $300- $500
$1501 Bid
19TH CENTURY SCRIMSHAW WHALE'S TOOTH, DEPICTING A
Nov 13, 10:00 AM EST
19TH CENTURY SCRIMSHAW WHALE'S TOOTH, DEPICTING A
by Marion Antique Auctions
Est: $500- $700
$2501 Bid
MICHAEL LUIZ CARVED SWORDFISH BILL SCRIMSHAW
Oct 23, 10:00 AM EDT
MICHAEL LUIZ CARVED SWORDFISH BILL SCRIMSHAW
by Ahlers & Ogletree Inc.
Est: $200- $400
$1001 Bid
PAIR OF FIGURAL WHALE TEETH NAPKIN RINGS, MADE IN
Nov 13, 10:00 AM EST
PAIR OF FIGURAL WHALE TEETH NAPKIN RINGS, MADE IN
by Marion Antique Auctions
Est: $300- $500
$1501 Bid
Reproduction Scrimshaw
Oct 23, 1:00 PM EDT
Reproduction Scrimshaw
by Designer Homes of Central Florida
Est: $45- $450
$451 Bid
(3) SAILOR-MADE SCRIMSHAW WHALEBONE AND BALEEN BUSKS
Oct 24, 11:00 AM EDT
(3) SAILOR-MADE SCRIMSHAW WHALEBONE AND BALEEN BUSKS
by CRN Auctions
Est: $400- $600
$2001 Bid
A hippopotamus tusk, Africa, 19th century, with old collection label 'Hippo
Oct 26, 10:30 AM BST
A hippopotamus tusk, Africa, 19th century, with old collection label 'Hippo
by Roseberys
Est: £200- £300
£800 Bids
19TH C. SCRIMSHAW WHALEBONE BUSK
Oct 24, 11:00 AM EDT
19TH C. SCRIMSHAW WHALEBONE BUSK
by CRN Auctions
Est: $400- $600
$2000 Bids
DARREL MORRIS SCRIMSHAW NUDE
Oct 24, 3:00 PM PDT
DARREL MORRIS SCRIMSHAW NUDE
by Midnight Sun Antique Auction
Est: $500- $700
$1000 Bids
SCRIMSHAW WHALE'S TOOTH
Oct 24, 11:00 AM EDT
SCRIMSHAW WHALE'S TOOTH
by CRN Auctions
Est: $300- $500
$1500 Bids
A SCRIMSHAW-WORK OSTRICH EGG
Oct 22, 10:00 AM BST
A SCRIMSHAW-WORK OSTRICH EGG
by Hutchinson Scott Limited
Est: £50- £80
£250 Bids
Ø A SCRIMSHAW DECORATED WHALEBONE FID, CIRCA 1860
Nov 02, 10:00 AM GMT
Ø A SCRIMSHAW DECORATED WHALEBONE FID, CIRCA 1860
by Charles Miller Ltd
Est: £600- £800
£3000 Bids

Sellers Who Sell Scrimshaw


Col. Christie Hatman, Auctioneer

Col. Christie Hatman, Auctioneer

Marion Antique Auctions

Marion Antique Auctions

CRN Auctions

CRN Auctions

Designer Homes of Central Florida

Designer Homes of Central Florida