IS SCRIMSHAW ???
among the whalers of the 18th century as a way to profitably fill
the empty hours during lengthy voyages, scrimshaw art originally
consisted of lines scratched on whalebone, whale teeth, or baleen.
Originally, the early scrimshanders used black or brown coloring
agents so that the scratched lines of their pictures would stand
out from the white background material.
Other traditions from Russia and from indigenous Arctic or island
peoples, involving different themes engraved on other materials,
merged with this whaling art to
provide the basis for modern scrimshaw. In the last thirty years,
expanded in application, technique, and scope while retaining the
traditional roots which give this art its unusual flavor and romance.
Today, scrimshaw is done on a wide variety of materials using two
major tech-niques, line engraving and stippling. Subject matter
may be anything from the traditional sepia whaling motifs to pictures
of Elvis in vibrant color. The modern scrimshander may employ oil
paints and other agents which allow him to use all the colors of
the spectrum for this for coloring his engravings. He may also do
„reverse“ scrimshaw, which uses white coloring agents
on a black surface, usually horn.
Scrimshaw may be regarded as pure art, or as decoration for objects
intended for daily wear or use. It is especially popular for ornamenting
the grips of fine knives, and is often found on ear rings, pendants,
belt buckles, or other jewelry. Scrimshaw is also a perennial favorite
on powder horns for the muzzle-loading enthusiast and, on occasion,
it may even be used to add a touch of individuality to a traditional
archer‘s favorite bow. Many of the traditional materials on
which scrimshaw was done in the past are now either rare or unobtainable,
as these materials come from large animals whose existence is at
hazard today. Trade in whale teeth, whalebone, baleen, ivory, sambar
stag antler, and other desirable materials is tightly controlled
or prohibited altogether. The rarity of these materials demands
that any scrimshaw done on them be at least of equal value to the
material scrimmed. As a result, modern scrimshaw technique has reached
a very high level, and the scrimshaw itself is often of exceptional
The scarcity of traditional materials has also led to a search for
replacements, and modern scrimshanders have already found several
excellent substitutes. Original pieces are of course quite valuable
today and this, along with the increasing excellence and value of
the art and the rarity of some of the materials on which it is done,
have inevitably led to increasing collector interest, which in turn
has created a thriving trade in both fake materials and forgeries
of traditional scrimshaw.
The author’s coverage of this regrettable development is informative
At the end of the book, the author supplies information and contact
addresses concerning legal restrictions on materials, the artists
listed in the book, sources of tools and materials, and a listing
of useful websites. The book ends with a representative listing
of the most valuable books on scrimshaw. This unique book is of
historical importance in that it thoroughly documents scrimshaw
art at the beginning of the 21 st Century. Its value as a reference
work will only increase with time. No one with a serious interest
in scrimshaw or art history should be without it.