This decorated sperm whale tooth is a piece of scrimshaw. It shows a sailor waving the Royal Navy’s flag with the name of his ship, the Cornelia, emblazoned across his uniform.
The Cornelia was a fifth rate ship built in 1808. Fifth rate ships had up to 32 guns, or cannons, on board. One of these guns can be seen on the tooth, just behind the sailor.
Scrimshaw was at its height in the early 1800s and was created by carving or engraving the teeth and bones of whales and other marine mammals. Whalers often spent long periods of time at sea with very little to occupy them, so crafting scrimshaw became a popular activity to pass the time.
It is unusual for a piece of British scrimshaw to be made from a Sperm whale’s tooth. A lot of scrimshaw is from the US, especially pieces made from the teeth. Sperm whales were hunted in the South Seas and off America.
This tooth can be seen on display at the Maritime Museum in Hull, which has the best scrimshaw collection in the UK.
Sperm Whale Tooth Scrimshaw can be viewed at Hull Maritime Museum