This is an extremely refined and
elaborate example of Scrimshaw.
Scrimshaw is the name given to
scrollwork, engravings, and
carvings done in bone or ivory.
Typically it refers to the handiwork
created by whalers made from the
byproducts of harvesting marine
mammals. It is most commonly
made out of the bones and teeth
of sperm whales, the baleen of
other whales, and the tusks of
walruses. It takes the form of
elaborate engravings in the form
pictures and lettering on the
surface of the bone or tooth, with
the engraving highlighted using a
pigment, or, less often, small
sculptures made from the same
material. However the latter really
fall into the categories of ivory
carving, for all carved teeth and
tusks, or bone carving. The
of scrimshaw began on whaling
ships between 1745 to 1759 on
the Pacific Ocean, and survived
until the ban on commercial
whaling. The practice survives as a
hobby and as a trade for
On one of the two sides of the
object, it has been depicted a
woman lifting the drapery of her
clothing, in a very natural gesture.
On the reverse side, the artist
depicted an erotic scene.
The rarity of this piece is due to
the rich polychromy employed in
the rendering of the clothing, on
both sides of the scrimshaw.
Besides the aesthetic interest of
such a lively use of colour, the
piece also represents an important
and accurate documentation of
the fashion habits of the period.