Whale tooth decorated with scrimshaw depicting 'the wreck of the Sir Charles Price' and a scene of Huahine Bay in the Society Islands. The artst has spelled the bay 'Huhaine'.
Sperm Whale Tooth Bearing Scrimshaw, Probably British The art of ivory and bone engraving termed scrimshaw developed among European and North American whaling men, who were confined aboard ship for months or years at a time. Until the turn of the 19th Century,when Westerners learned that teeth could be exchanged for large quantities of meat, vegetables and sandalwood in Western Polynesia, Sperm Whale ivory was a low-value bi-product in comparison to the spermaceti whale oil derived from these vast animals. The teeth were an excellent medium for etching patterns and pictures on, and their decoration rapidly became a creative craze among seamen. This large example is particularly fine, and features three images etched and stained with ink. Between the two larger scenes, a small engraving depicts the sperm whale itself (Physeter catodon). On one face a finely-etched landscape depicts Baie Maroe, one of Huahine island’s natural harbours in the central north of the Society Islands. Western sailors mistakenly imagined Tahiti and the Society Islands as almost mythical perfect places of warmth, ease, natural beauty, fine food and beautiful available women; everything the whaling lifestyle denied them. The other face presents a darker scene, entitled by the maker ‘The Wreck of the Sir Chas. Price’. The artist would probably have seen this shipwreck himself. The Sir Charles Price was one of a fleet of whaling ships owned by Daniel Bennett of the London-based whaling company W. Bennett & Co, one of the dominant organisations in early 19th Century whaling. Laden with 700 sealed barrels of whale oil, the Sir Charles Price was wrecked in April 1833 on the reef at Huahine. On this occasion, all of the crew made it ashore alive, and much of the oil was recovered from the wreck later that year by the schooner Ulietea. Ivory, pigment. Mid-1830s. Carved by an unknown artist, and provenance unknown.