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Item Details

Lot #14
Sold For$150,000.00(hammer price)
 $180,000.00(price including buyer's premium)
Last UpdatedOctober 15, 2019


Inscribed on lower edge Engraved, By Edward Burdett. Onboard Of The. Wm Tell." Obverse titled "Arrabella. of Sag Harbor. In the Act of Whaling." Depicts an active whaling scene with three whaleboats and a surfaced whale off the Arrabella. Multiple figures are seen on the deck of the whaleship and a lookout is in the crow's nest. Reverse titled "William Tell. Of New York. Homeward Bound." Depicts the American whaleship William Tell with a sailboat, coastal lighthouse, house and outbuilding in the distance off her bow. The lighthouse is topped by a bannerette weather vane, smoke wisps from the house's chimney and a fence surrounds all three buildings. Some elements colored red, including the house and outbuilding, the doors and windows on the lighthouse, the sailboat's pennant, and the figures onboard the Arrabella. A stylized foliate vine with red berries, typical of Burdett's work, wraps almost completely around the circumference of the base, and the lettering throughout the tooth is the same serifed lettering seen on other Burdett examples. The coastline, the sperm whale and both whaleship hulls are deeply carved. Length 7.75".
Because of the inscription on this tooth, we know it was created while Edward Burdett was onboard the ship William Tell, which left New York in November 1829 and returned to port in February 1833. It is likely the William Tell encountered the Arrabella while both ships were in the Pacific whaling grounds between 1830 and 1833. Because this tooth depicts the William Tell on its homeward voyage, it can be surmised it was done toward the end of Burdett's time aboard the ship. It descended through the family of Burdett's sister, Lydia Burdett Hallett, and was perhaps engraved as a gift for her.

Many elements of this tooth are similar to an Edward Burdett tooth sold at Eldred's Marine Sale, July 20, 2017, Lot #1, for a world-record $456,000. Both teeth bear inscriptions indicating the teeth were engraved by Burdett aboard the William Tell, the obverses both depict whaling scenes, the reverses both depict ships on their homeward bound voyage, and the whaleships are boldly rendered yet finely detailed. While the whaling scene on this tooth is more simplistic, it can be argued the coastline scene is more substantially developed. Given that the tooth was most likely engraved while Burdett was homeward bound onboard the William Tell and that it was intended as a gift for his sister Lydia, it is easy to imagine his thoughts had turned more toward the comforts of home rather than the toils of whaling.

Descended in the family of Edward Burdett's sister, Lydia Burdett Hallett, through the Hallett family then as a gift to the current consignor.

Edward Burdett was a pioneer of American scrimshaw, and in his short but prolific career he produced what are widely considered masterpieces of the genre. He was born on Nantucket in October 1805, the son of a merchant sea captain. His first whaling voyage was aboard the Foster from 1822 to 1824. In successive voyages he sailed aboard the William Tell and the Montano. In November 1833, while serving as first mate onboard the Montano, Burdett was entangled in line, dragged by a whale overboard, and drowned.

Edward had one older sister and four younger sisters. His next to youngest sister was Lydia (1812-1895), who married Captain William Hallett (1812-1882), son of Isaac and Rebecca Matthews Hallett of Barnstable. Lydia and William lived at 570 Main Street, Hyannis, which is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

William and Lydia had no children but William had many siblings, Allen Hallett (1809-1864) being the closest in birth order. Allen Hallett was a carpenter and woodworker on Nantucket. He married Hepsabeth Rand (1813-1859) and they had a son, Eugene, born in 1838. As Eugene grew up, Nantucket's economy began to falter, due to decline of the whaling industry and young men leaving the island for the California Gold Rush.

Eugene Hallett wanted to learn jewelry and watch making so he and his parents left Nantucket for Boston when Eugene was 15 years old so he could apprentice with a jeweler. Eugene excelled at the craft, and after a year and a half, he was recommended to a jeweler in Providence, Rhode Island. Another year and a half later he was deemed proficient enough to go out on his own.

At that point, the Halletts became part of the great migration west so Eugene could start his jewelry business where there was no other. He and his parents pooled their savings for Eugene to purchase inventory and they set out via stage coach and river boats for Leavenworth, Kansas. Upon arrival in 1856, Leavenworth was nothing more than a wild dusty crossroads and military outpost with few structures. Eugene was indeed the first to establish a jewelry, watch and engraving business there, while his father established the first lumber and hardware business and did construction in the burgeoning town.

It is believed Lydia Burdett Hallett gave her nephew Eugene the sperm whale tooth before he left on his venture west, since both her brother and her young nephew were skilled engravers.

Eugene married Martha Jonson Brown (1847- 1935) in Ottumwa, Iowa, in 1865, and they made their home in Leavenworth until relocating to Lincoln, Nebraska in 1871. Eugene died at age 98 in 1933. Eugene's sons, Fred and Hugh, followed in their father's successful jewelry business in Lincoln, renaming it Hallett Bros. Jewelry. Fred (1869-1952) and his wife, Mabel Curtis (1873-1962) had no children, but Hugh (1878-1948) and his wife, Henrietta Hawley (1879-1949), had three sons. The only one who continued the family jewelry business was Eugene Sheldon Hallett (1904-1971).

Going by the name Sheldon, he married his University of Nebraska sweetheart, Frances Bolton Hallett (1906-1985) in 1929. As the next generation engraver, Shel and Fran took custody of the Burdett tooth directly from Sheldon's grandfather upon his passing in 1933.

Shel and Fran had no children. When Shel reached retirement age, he was anxious to enjoy his golden years in a warmer climate, so he liquidated the 100-year-old Nebraska family business and retired to Scottsdale, Arizona, in the fall of 1969. After an invigorating morning desert horseback ride on his thoroughbred, he was lounging by the pool and suffered a fatal heart. He passed away at age 66 in 1971.

In the fall of 1971, Sheldon's widow struck up a close friendship with the current consignors. Having no family of her own, Fran gave the Burdett tooth to them in 1983. The tooth has never before been offered for sale.



Age crack on obverse extend approx. 1.75 into scene from base. An age fracture at tip with crack wrapping around tip extending approx. 6" into scene on obverse and approx. 3" into scene of reverse. Faint old cracks at base of reverse. Some loss of ink on reverse's whaleship. Very small, old shallow chip at very tip.

This item will not be shipped internationally without a CITES permit. Obtaining CITES and any other necessary permits is the obligation of the buyer."

The description of the item above may not be the final version used in the catalog. The descriptions are as yet unedited and may contain mistakes. The description, estimates and photos could all be wrong. In rare cases they may not end up in this sale. Once the items have received their lot number the descriptions will have been changed if needed.

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