Maritime scrimshaw, a unique American art form, has its roots in the age of wooden ships. In the 18th century, whaler sailing ships harvested whale and walrus blubber for lamp oil and candle wax. The sailors on whaling ships had a lot of spare time on board their ships. When not hunting and processing whales, mariners occupied their free time etching and making small objects from whaling byproducts. Bones and teeth of sperm whales, baleen, and walrus tusks were readily available on board ship. These were a highly viable medium to produce hand tools, toys, utensils, and decorative pieces.
Sailors etched pictures and nautical scenes on bone, teeth, and tusks using sail sewing needles and small tools. Candle black, soot, or tobacco juice were used to bring the etched drawings into view. The earliest authenticated pictorial scrimshaw piece appeared around 1817.
This historical set includes a resin one side replica of a 17th century American scrimshaw. This vertical scrimshaw shows William 'Captain' Kidd's ship Adventure.
In 1695, a colonial Royal governor of New York, the English king, and lords financed the Scottish privateer venture of William 'Captain' Kidd. His mission was to capture enemy French ships and pirate ships. As a privateer, English investors commissioned Kidd to seize all treasure, return to England, and split the plunder amongst the crew and investors. In September 1696, Kidd in his new ship, Adventure Galley, set sail for the privateer hunting ground called the 'Pirate Round.' The course led from the western Atlantic, around the southern tip of Africa, to Madagascar, then along the coast of Yemen and India. The 'Pirate Round' were largely routes of the East India Company ships of Britain and other nations. On January 30, 1698, 'Captain' Kidd captured the 340 ton neutral Indian merchant vessel Quadagh Merchant off the west coast of India. The ship was Indian owned, and commanded by an English captain. The voyage was financed by Armenians, and brokered by an agent of the East India Company. The Quadagh carried safe passage from the French, the enemy of England.