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Scrimshaw is the art of carving designs onto bone, ivory and teeth and was popular among sailors. It began in the mid 1700s when American sailors began decorating whalebone and teeth to relieve the boredom of long whaling voyages across the Pacific Ocean.

Scrimshaw tusk

Designs often included portraits of the ship or its captain, whaling scenes, mermaids and sea creatures. Some pieces were highly personalised and given by a sailor to his wife or sweetheart to remind her of him while he was away on a long voyage. These pieces often took the form of jewellery or busks (long pieces of whalebone used to stiffen bodices) to be worn next to her heart.

Image courtesy of Middlesbrough Museums Service