Sunday, April 26, 2009

Scrimshaw Whale Tooth

After finishing the whale tooth and putting in on the stand, I realized that the scarab bead didn't look right. It was crudely carved and the color was too bright, and detracted from the tooth itself. So I removed it and to cover up the mark on the base I engraved a small 19th century looking black plate with gold lettering.

For the tooth I molded a sperm whale tooth that I had acquired years ago, then cast it in a polyurethane resin. I then sanded down the resin tooth smooth where the scrimshaw was to go, and engraved two steampunk scenes. This left the real ivory tooth undamaged. One side of the tooth shows a giant squid attacking the airship Gryphon.

And the other side shows a steamy mermaid. Here is the story I wrote to explain the history of the piece:

The old Chinese man loved his opium pipe more than any other thing on earth. Because of his devotion to it he had never married, and had long ago lost contact with his family. He had finally found his place in the world on a whaling ship, working as a cook, which allowed him ample time to enjoy his indulgence. It was here plying the seven seas that he learned the art of scrimshaw, scratching a design into a whale tooth, then rubbing lampblack into the marks to make it legible.

It was while in an opiate stupor that he saw the most amazing sight of his life—a giant squid attacking the airship Gryphon. He alone saw it, and the whalers laughed at his tale, but the old man swore it was true, and set about to record the event in bone. On the flip side of the tooth he copied a tattoo worn by one of the sailors, portraying a mermaid in steamy attire—wearing a corset with a set of goggles on her head, and carrying a raygun in her hand.

The old man lost his life while the ship was docked in Alexandria, stabbed to death in a knife fight while gambling in the seediest part of the city. His few possessions were scattered, and his scrimshawed whale tooth—his most precious belonging after his pipe—ended up in a curio shop. The owner paired it with a small display stand which fit it perfectly. It was a bronze casting which portrayed the Egyptian god Horus and lotus blossoms, mounted on a wooden base. He had a small plaque engraved which reads “The Attack of the Giant Tentacled Sea Monster”.

I have more pictures on my Etsy shop.


  1. Absolutely beauty... the scrimshaw work, the stand, the story. What I'd give to have your imagination, Tom!

  2. Aaaaahhhhhhhh, mermaid with corset & goggles = Choklit bliss.

    I have such a deep appreciation for the fine attention to detail you put into your work, Tom, and this one is no exception. It's amazing! And I love the story.


  3. Thank you both very much! It is your words of encouragement and support that inspire me to keep working.

  4. Fabulous piece! Love the back story too