A Banknote Engraver Scrimshaw Whale's Tooth

Circa 1835-45

a sperm whale's tooth engraved on both sides with some red pigment embellishment.

Length 6 inches. 

Both scenes depicted on this tooth, along with the decorative borders that encircle the top, base and portrait, are characteristic of the anonymous scrimshaw artist referred to as the Banknote Engraver.

One side of the tooth depicts a masterfully engraved naval battle, The Constitution in Close Action with the Guerriere, after a painting by Michele Felice Corné (1752-1845) and an engraving by Abel Bowen (1790-1850) of Boston. The USS Constitution's 1812 victory over the Guerriere earned it the nickname 'Old Ironsides.' Bowen included the engraving in his military history book The Naval Monument, published in 1816 with several reissues. The book was very popular with sailors and, given the importance of the Constitution to the American maritime imagination, this scene in particular was commonly chosen for scrimshaw. There are at least eight examples by the Banknote Engraver, including a rendition in the Kendall Collection of the New Bedford Whaling Museum.

The tooth is incised on the opposite side with a well-executed portrait of a seated woman reading a book. The portrait is adapted from the frontispiece engraving of The Young Ladies Elegant Prose, Comprising Selections from the Works of British and American Authors (Leavitt & Allen, New York, 1853). Variations of this image appear on several Banknote-attributed teeth.

Cowan's sincerely thanks Dr. Stuart M. Frank for his attribution and authentication of this tooth, and for identifying the source materials for the scenes depicted.


Two notable chips to the tip.

Estimate: $6,000 - $8,000
Price Realized Including Buyer's Premium

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