61. A Collection of Forty Scrimshaw

circa 1800–1900

It is beyond this cataloguer’s capacity to write anything meaningful about this unusual, and possibly unique collection of erotic scrimshaw, beyond noting that long periods at sea clearly stimulated sailors’ imaginations. The collection itself was formed over many years by a man recently deceased at a great age, and was no doubt part of a much larger collection of similar subject-matter. There must be an expert specialist somewhere – probably British since it would require a particular kind of eccentricity – but so far I have failed to locate him. Even institutions with links to whaling, such as the Nantucket Whaling Museum, are reluctant to advertise comparable scrimshaw, if indeed they possess any. Nevertheless, this collection deserves a proper study. A number of the ships have names, and their logs must exist somewhere. An expert on costume should be able to date fairly precisely many of the ladies by what they are wearing; more of a challenge, of course, once the more brazen among them have cast off their apparel. And then there is the link between whalers in the Arctic and slavers of the Caribbean. Most of the ships are British or American, but there is also a distinctive French flavour to some of the boudoir scenes. One can only hope that one day someone who combines the wit and erudition of Norman Douglas and James Laver will take up the challenge.