The 'Susan' Tooth - Scrimshaw - Frederick Myrick (27 January 1829)
sperm whale tooth, 15.4 x 7.4 cm
KINCM:1999.200.56, Hull Maritime Museum
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Most scrimshaw remains anonymous, and whalers rarely signed their own work. Frederick Myrick is an exception, and is often regarded as the most renowned scrimshaw artist. His most famous works are the Susan’s teeth, which he produced between December 1828 and Sep 1829)whilst aboard the Susan of Nantucket sailing in the Pacific Ocean. This particular example is signed alongside an inscription, “Death to the Living, Long Life to the Killers, Success to Sailor’s Wives & Greasy Luck to Whalers”. One side of the tooth features the starboard profile of the Susan hoisting a slip of blubber aboard from a whale carcass alongside, two whaleboats on the horizon to the right of the ship's bow, plus a whale head and a tail. A scroll above is inscribed “The Susan on the Coast of Japan”, the same locale as Turner’s second Whaler. At right angles to this design is an American eagle, wings displayed, with stars and stripes held in its claw, and a scroll trailing from its beak inscribed “E PLURIBUS UNUM”, a motto for the United States, roughly translating as “out of the many, one”. The other side depicts the starboard profile of a whaling ship, with smoke trailing from the try-works, and three whaleboats on the horizon to the right of the bow. A whale is shown in profile, as well as spouts, and a whale's tail. A band above the scene is inscribed 'The Susan boiling and killing sperm whales'. The scene thus represents a parallel to Turner’s third Whaler. Today a Susan’s Tooth is the prize of any scrimshaw collection and its monetary value is usually much higher than unsigned examples. Such signed scrimshaw brings the genre closer to that of signed etchings or easel paintings.

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Credit: Images are courtesy of the Hull Maritime Museum