Voyage to the Arctic: A Whaler's Tale

Scrimshaw - The Whaler's Art

What is Scrimshaw?

Just like we might take a souvenir home today, to remind ourselves of a special event or experience, or to give to our family or friends, Whalers made souvenirs to take home too.


These souvenirs were often pieces of decorated whale tooth or baleen. Whalers would use a sail needle or other sharp instrument to scratch out pictures and messages. They would then rub ink, candle black, soot or tobacco juice into the marks, to make them stand out against the creamy white colour of the tooth or baleen.


Where does the name 'Scrimshaw' come from?

When all the work onboard the ship was done, when everything was clean and tidy, the Captain would tell the crew to be about their 'Scrimshandering'. This meant they had to find something to keep them busy - a hobby or a pastime. So this kind of artwork was called 'Scrimshaw'.


Scrimshaw was a way for the Whalers to try and record the dangers and extremes that they lived through; experiences that people back home would never be able to understand. Scrimshaw was also a way of expressing their loneliness and their homesickness. We can find all sorts of images on the Scrimshaw.


Hull Maritime Museum's Scrimshaw Collection

Hull Maritime Museum has over 350 peices of Scrimshaw in its collection (some examples are on the right). This is the largest collection of Scrimshaw in Europe!


You can handle real scrimshaw during the 'Voyage to the Arctic: A Whaler's Tale led session! Click here to go to led session information.


Did you know?

John F Kennedy, President of the United States of America, was a keen collector of scrimshaw and bought his first piece in 1960. After he died in 1963, he was buried with his favourite piece of scrimshaw.


To find out more about scrimshaw, click here to visit the Folk Art and the Whalers learning journey on My Learning.

Document icon Learning article provided by: Hull Maritime Museum | 
This content is licensed under Creative Commons BY NC SA

Accessibility Statement | Terms of Use | Site Map

Copyright © My Learning 2018. All Rights Reserved

Website by: Grapple