Scrimshaw Thought by Some the Only True American Art Form
Many consider scrimshaw to be the only true American art form. The meaning of the
word has no real origin, though some claim it comes from a Dutch word meaning “lazy
shirker of work.”
It comes from Sailors with too much time on their hands. The worst thing you can
have aboard ship are bored Sailors……trust me!
Somewhere a whaling captain gave out Whale teeth and bones to the crew to fashion
what ever they wanted. Sailors are many things, and handy with a Jack Knife, or Marlinspike
is near the top of the list. Soon all sorts of wonderful useful items were fashioned
from the remains of the whaler’s victims: Jagging Wheels for pie making. Spools,
bobbins, fids, corset stays, combs, brushes, and boxes.
The tooth of the Sperm whale was a favorite item to engrave and ink. Some like Richard
Merik kept a sort of journal of his adventures on the Whale ship SUSAN. Those with
no artistic ability used illustrations from magazines to trace onto the teeth. Then
with knife, or sailing needle they would etch into the tooth. To fill in the lines
the Sailors used soot from the boiling of the blubber, or berry juice, and even tobacco
Today we use Elephant Ivory, Fossil Mammoth, Fossil Walrus, as well as some horns
to make scrimshaw. Some people use types of plastic. The process is the same. Draw
your design, etch it and use ink to fill in the lines making them visible.
I USE MOSTLY FOSSIL IVORY! MAMMOTH ARE EXTINCT! I SUPPORT ALL ELEPHANT AND WHALE
CONSERVATION EFFORTS AND HAVE DONATED TO EACH CAUSE. DO NOT EVEN THINK ABOUT GIVING
ME GRIEF OVER USING PRODUCTS FROM AN ANIMAL EXTINCT FOR 10,000 YEARS!
Scrimshaw and a President
Many people love scrimshaw. Collector and artist alike become smitten with the rich
warm natural canvas, delicate etched lines, and bold colors.
One man can take credit for keeping scrimshaw in the hearts and minds of this and
President John F. Kennedy. A passionate collector of scrimshaw, and an expert in
whaling history, President Kennedy proudly displayed his collection in the Oval Office.
A scrimshawed whale tooth commissioned by the First Lady now rests with him in his