North Atlantic or Arctic, ca. mid-19th century CE. A fascinating piece of folk art that immediately calls to mind Herman Melville, carved from three separate pieces of whale bone. At the top is a sperm whale with its tail twisted around, caught in a dynamic pose as if swimming. It is connected to a low base, that retains some of the original shape of the bone it is made from, by a thin, highly polished cylinder that may be a part of a tooth. Size: 3.95" L x 7.6" W x 4.95" H (10 cm x 19.3 cm x 12.6 cm)
The texture of the whale bone - which often feels more like dense wood than other types of bone - is clearly seen on one side of the base and the tail of the whale, while much of the rest of the carving is smooth.
Although now it has largely (and happily) fallen out of favor, during the 19th century, whaling was a major part of the world economy. Although whales have been hunted for many centuries all over the world, the depiction here of a sperm whale allows us to date this to the middle of the 19th century. From 1840 to 1861, American crews developed the sperm whale fishing industry to harvest spermaceti, the waxy substance in the nose of the whale that was used to make candles, oil for lamps, and other lubricants. This industry was immortalized in "Moby Dick," published first as "The Whale" in 1851. During those years, the United States had over 700 whaling vessels; whalers would go out on four-year-long voyages and while at sea used their spare time to make wonderful carvings like this one from whale bone and teeth.
The piece is accompanied by a notarized document certifying its legality.
<BR Provenance: Ex-Henry & Gretchen Burnett Collection, Santa Barbara, CA, acquired before 1970
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