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Item Details

Lot #1
Sold For$320,000.00(hammer price)
 $384,000.00(price including buyer's premium)
Last UpdatedNovember 4, 2019


Inscribed on lower edge Engraved. by Edward Burdett. of Nantucket. onboard of The Ship Wm Tell." in script lettering. Obverse titled "Wm Thomson. Cutting. Boiling. And Fast. To A Whale." in serifed lettering. Depicts the American whaleship William Thomson flying a large and boldly rendered American flag off her stern. A whaleboat off her bow is in the process of capturing a surfaced sperm whale. Another American whaleship, identified as the Leonidus in script lettering, is depicted near the tip. Reverse titled "Pacific. Homeward Bound Full." in the same serifed lettering. Depicts the American whaleship Pacific flying a large American flag, an agent's red and blue "Pacific" flag off the foremast, a long and waving red and blue pennant off the midmast and a blue house flag off the stern mast. A coastal lighthouse and house is off the bow, and another hilly landmass is in the distance. The titles flank a cut-cornered rectangular cartouche inscribed "New Bedford Ships. S.N. Potter. Master." in the same serifed lettering as the titles. The tooth exhibits exceptional details throughout including a lookout in a mast, a rooster-form weather vane atop the lighthouse, smoke emanating from the house's chimney and the flurry of activity happening aboard the William Thomson. A red berry vine, typical of Burdett's work, wraps almost completely around the circumference of the base. Extensive use of red sealing wax in flags, whale and whale blubber. Ship hulls as well as the sperm whale, the whaleboat and assorted pennant and flags are carved in relief. Length 8".
From the inscription, we know the tooth presented here 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 ships William Thomson, Leonidus and Pacific while in the Pacific whaling grounds. The William Thomson sailed from New Bedford in October 1830 and returned August 1834, therefore this tooth likely dates from 1830 to 1833. We believe the tooth was engraved by Burdett and given to the ship captain, Stephen Potter.

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.

This tooth is remarkably similar to another Edward Burdett tooth sold at Eldred's Marine Sale, July 20, 2017, Lot #1, for the world-record price of $456,000. That tooth bears the same maker's inscription and also depicted the whaleship William Thomson, though it was seen "Homeward Bound", not involved in active whaling as depicted on this example.


Descended directly through the family of Captain Stephen Potter of the
William Thompson. A letter from the family will accompany the tooth.
In our opinion this lot provides an exceptional opportunity to own a scrimshaw whale's tooth with an important provenance and excellent patina engraved by one of the masters of the craft."


Deep rich patina. Two old chips at base, one through the berry vine. Faint and unobtrusive age lines at tip and base.

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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