Calling all ocean lovers! If you're a mermaid or merman at heart and you don't know about scrimshaw, you're really missing out. Finding authentic pieces will connect you to the rich history of the water and the incredible creatures within it.
What is Scrimshaw?
You might think of scrimshaw as just a fancy letter opener or cuff links, but its origins are filled with a rich history. Whalers started scrimshawing on whaling ships between 1745 and 1759 on the Pacific Ocean.
Scrimshaw is engraved or carved items made by whalers, typically from baleen or whale ivory. The material they used is particular; the whalers didn’t venture into shark teeth or other animal bones.
The scrimshaw material usually came from:
- a whale's bones
- walrus tusks
These carvings typically feature pictures or lettering on the bone or tooth's surface, with the engraving highlighted by a pigment. The designs of these pieces may vary, but they typically feature sketches of whales or whaling scenes.
Scrimshawing wasn't just limited to whalers, though. In the past, wives and children of whalers would accompany them to sea from time to time.
Some pieces were hand-carved to represent the heritage of the location in which they were created. So, you should check Whaler's Locker out if you're into Hawaiian history and culture.
How Valuable is Scrimshaw?
Since whale bones and cartilage are such valuable materials, some people pay a pretty penny for scrimshaw knives and other pieces. Prices can range anywhere from less than $1,000 to $75,000 or more. As pieces age and more collectors become interested, the value of a piece will increase.
Antique scrimshaw is highly sought-after. If it's a hundred years or older, you might have to go back and forth with another collector over it. The most valuable and historical pieces typically get snatched by museums. However, simple items like scrimshaw knives, thimbles, and winders tend to be easier to find.
How to Tell if Your Scrimshaw is Real
One of the trickier aspects of scrimshaw collecting is determining whether your piece is genuine. When you're spending big bucks on growing a valuable collection, you want to make sure you're getting what you pay for. The easiest ways to do this are by learning to describe your piece or comparing it to others.
First, you need to grab your scrimshaw magnifying glass. Use it to examine your piece, and keep in mind that plastic items will look completely smooth. If your ivory is real, it will have a grain.
Then, you can consider the condition and color of your piece. Since these are historical items, you can expect your ivory to turn yellow with age. If it's already looking pretty yellow, you might have an antique on your hands.
Using the "Hot Pin Test" to Assess a Piece
If you don't have your magnifying glass handy, you can quickly test your piece's authenticity by performing a "hot pin test."
To accomplish this test, heat a pin until it's almost red hot and then touch it to an inconspicuous part of the item. If it scorches and smells like burning bone, you've got a real piece on your hands. The pin test will cause polymer or plastic to melt into the piece and emit the smell of burning plastic.
Comparing Your Objects with Others
So, you've inspected the piece under a magnifying glass and performed the hot pin test, but you're still not sure whether your scrimshaw knife is authentic. Don't worry; we have the perfect solution! If there are other scrimshaw collectors in your life, ask them if you can view some of their pieces to compare.
If you're the only scrimshaw collector you know, using the internet to investigate your piece will be the best choice. Of course, you should always take words from online strangers with a grain of salt, but even finding an image could help you tremendously. There are also books about scrimshaw that can help you reach a deeper understanding of the craft and learn from whalers themselves.
Ways to Determine the Age of Scrimshaw
Congratulations! You've successfully determined that your piece is real, but how can you tell how old it is? Discovering the age of an item does take some skill, so it might take a bit of research and practice before you can accurately do so. You might have to bring the magnifying glass back out to assess how old your scrimshaw knife is.
When you examine the inside of a scrimshaw tooth, you're sure to find natural aging.
Aging appears in the form of:
- old debris
- spotted stains
Collectors tend to be pretty wary about purchasing antique pieces due to how difficult it can be to determine their actual age. Over time, however, you will be able to feel the difference without even inspecting the piece. You can feel the coarseness of an old piece since it's not like they had high-tech polishing machines back in the old days.
Preserving and Cleaning Scrimshaw
It's clear how incredible and valuable things like scrimshaw knives really are. You must keep your piece in good condition if you plan on preserving it in your collection forever. Once the item is ordered from our site and in your hands, you can take steps at home to keep it looking perfect.
The smartest way to preserve your scrimshaw knife or money clip is to take preventative measures as soon as possible. Items crafted out of bone are usually more fragile and prone to breaking or damage. You can treat them with light, clear mineral oil. After oiling, seal with a high-quality wax.
Even though the wear and tear add to a piece's character, you still want to keep it clean. Most oil and dirt can be removed from the surface with a gentle dusting or wipe with a soft, clean cotton cloth. However, sometimes the debris can be a little stubborn, so you may have to go in with a cotton swab and some rubbing alcohol.
While you might have different methods for cleaning your scrimshaw knife, all collectors should know never to scrub the piece. Harsh scrubbing can cause wear and tear and damage its appearance.
Now that you're educated on all things scrimshawing, you're on track to having some pretty authentic and valuable items. If you want a special Hawaiian piece to be shipped right to your home, check out the Whaler's Locker scrimshaw collection.