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Scrimshaw Artworks Stolen From Cape Cod National Seashore Visitor Center


Months at sea left the crews on 19th and even 18th century whaling ships with lots of idle time on their hands. One way they filled that time was to carve intricate designs into walrus tusks and whale teeth.

These scrimshaw items became quite elaborate and have descended down through the years as highly prized artworks. While bans on ivory have largely diminished this artform, the value of these old pieces has, if anything, continued to appreciate. That, perhaps, is why two scrimshaw pieces that had been on display since 1989 in a locked case at the Salt Pond Visitor Center at Cape Cod National Seashore were recently stolen.

One of the pieces was a 22-inch-long piece of walrus tusk into which was engraved, "Ship. Wm. Thompson," and the other was a 3-and-a-half-inch long piece of walrus tusk carved into the shape of a walrus head.

The national seashore's curator has notified members of the scrimshaw collector community to enlist their help in recovering these national treasures, said Bob Grant, the seashore's chief ranger. 

"These wonderful pieces of maritime art belong to the American people and we are cooperating with a number of law enforcement agencies to search for them," said seashore Superintendent George Price. "It is unfortunate that, for now, these scrimshaw pieces will not be available for viewing, although numerous other scrimshaw items remain on display."

Seashore officials could not be reached Friday to say when the theft occurred, whether the case had been physically broken into, or whether the key had been used to unlock it.

Anyone with information concerning the theft is asked to contact the chief ranger at 508-957-0735.


Actually, "These wonderful pieces of maritime art belong to" the long-dead walruses whose bones were used for carving and engraving.  While I recognize the aesthetic and historic value of these artworks, I am also pleased that this barbarous practice has been "diminished."  Unfortunately, the killing of walruses just for their tusks has not been entirely suppressed, however:

We no longer use ivory to make tools like harpoon points; ironic that is when you read depictions of old-time walrus hunts.  For what other reason, then, would you need only the head of a walrus these days?

Old scrimshaw should be treasured as artifacts from a different era with different values.  New scrimshaw should be universally outlawed and shunned.

re: "New scrimshaw should be universally outlawed and shunned."  While I agree that hunting any animal just for their tusks or "for old time's sake" is ridiculous, the art of scrimshaw can be and is practiced not only on or even "pre-embargo" ivory - ivory that was aquired before the CITEs treaty, but more and more on mammoth ivory - ivory from animals that died out 10,000+ years ago.  Bone carving and scrimshaw are intricate artforms that can be practiced sustainably on this material, as well as on tagua nut - a sustainable material from the rain forests that is used on many eco-friendly clothes today.

I agree with Bruce's comments on walrus, but much modern day scrimshaw is done on fossilized mammoth ivory which is dug out of the ground and is easily recognizable.  Much contemporary scrimshaw is benign and the art form can continue without damage to present wildlife.

Everyone is certainly entitled to their opinion but what's the difference of harvesting an animal for it's bone or ivory as opposed to its meat other then a "philosophical" one? As long as the animal is not endangered and is harvested in accordance to the law I don't see the difference.Unless you don't eat any meat or use any type of animal product(ie leather) I can't see the arguement-- JMHO

Native hunting rights of maritime animals such as whales, seals, walrus, etc. are a vital part of our native American culture and will be sustained. Shoot it, eat it, wear it and scrimshaw it. Good hunting!

What makes everyone think that walrus are killed only for their heads or just for their tusks? Statements such as that are really only innuendo and should be dismissed as nonsense.  

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