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About Marine Ivory, Whaling and Sailor Art

Marine ivory antiques are beautiful but were never really intended to be commercially available to the general public. They were actually a means through which seamen could occupy themselves on long whaling trips.

While a form of ivory maritime art is believed to date back to 100 or 200 AD, the modern form is believed to have begun during the 17th century. At this time, whaling was still popular, legal, and commonly accepted in many parts of the world.

In America, New England sailors would leave on whaling voyages with the intent of gathering meat and blubber for a variety of purposes. One primary goal was to turn it into an oil, which lit lamps and served several other functions.

These whaling journeys could last up to five years or even longer as it would often be weeks and months between whale sightings. While waiting to site whale, sailors would often pass the time carving the bones and teeth that were a by-product of the whaling oil production.

They would use knives and needles or sharpened bone as the engraving tool and highlight their carving by rubbing gunpowder or soot into the markings.

These engravings often represented their view at sea, loved ones back home, and ocean creatures, including mermaids and other fantastical creatures. A new pastime was born – what we refer to now as antique marine ivory scrimshaw or whaling and sailor art.

The allure and usefulness of ivory soon spread, leading to many household and domestic items being made from it. Many things we have that are made from plastic today were once made from ivory. In fact, it is considered to be the plastic of the era.

As the hunt for whales began to decline in the late 1800's, there were fewer and fewer maritime ivory pieces making their way back to shore. Over time, it nearly became a lost art form.

Fortunately, there are still several original pieces available for collection today. 

At Maritime Art & Antiques, we search far and wide to bring you a piece of this time in history. Learn more about marine ivory art and antiques by viewing our collection. Don't hesitate to Contact Us if you have any questions or would like more information.

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