Eldred's - Auctioneers, Appraisers

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Item Details

Lot #7
Sold For$220,000.00(hammer price)
 $264,000.00(price including buyer's premium)
Last UpdatedOctober 16, 2019


Subtlety signed W A Gilpin" within a delicate vine that forms the proscenium arch on the obverse. Engraved on board the American whaleship Ceres of Wilmington, Delaware, circa 1835. Before the discovery of this historically significant tooth, William Aratus Gilpin was known simply as "Ceres Artist No. 1". Because of the signature seen here, collectors and scholars were able to connect a name and history to the formerly anonymous master artist and his outstanding body of work. Says Dr. Stuart M. Frank, Senior Curator Emeritus of the New Bedford Whaling Museum and founder of the Scrimshaw Forensics Laboratory, "Every now and then a watershed piece shows up that is not only an aesthetic tour-de-force but has unique and enduring historical and iconographical significance that, in addition to being 'A Thing of Beauty,' enlightens the genre and informs research. The so-called Ceres Teeth by William Gilpin are just such outstanding pieces."

Obverse depicts Jack Tar resting his right arm on an anchor and holding a wide-brimmed hat in his raised left hand. An eagle grasping three arrows in its talons and a "Free Trade And Sailors Rights" banner in its beak is perched on Jack's right shoulder, with the banner arching above Jack. A polychrome American shield rests against Jack's left leg, which is slightly raised. He is wearing the typical dress of the American sailor of the period, including a dark-colored short-waisted jacket, a large collared shirt and a necktie. The depiction of his hair, necktie and the ribbon on his hat give the appearance they are blowing in the wind. The scene is framed within a border typical of Gilpin's style.

Above the scene is the proscenium arch, a distinctive layout characteristic of Gilpin's work. It contains a beautifully detailed portside rendering of an American merchant ship with false gunports, flying a pennant from the main mast and an American flag off the gaff.

Reverse with a large and very accurately engraved portrait of a merchant ship with false gunports, sailing away from the viewer at an angle that shows her portside and transom. A long pennant flies from the main mast. This is likely a larger and more detailed view of the ship that appears on the obverse in the arch, and it is outstandingly detailed, particularly the spars, the shading of the sails and the rigging.

A sawtooth border wraps around the circumference of the tooth at the base.

This tooth, like all of Gilpin's engravings, were created with the pinprick transfer method. The pigmentation in this tooth is bold and remarkably well preserved, due in part to Gilpin's use of true black ink as opposed to the lamp black ink that was commonly used by whalemen.
Accompanied by substantial genealogical research on William A. Gilpin and the family through which the tooth descended for many years, as well as research on Gilpin's whaling voyages, a copy of an April 11, 2008 letter from Donald A. Ridley of the New Bedford Whaling Museum confirming the "Ceres" authenticity of the tooth, and copies of a slide show presentation given by Ridley at the 2008 New Bedford Whaling Museum Scrimshaw Weekend delineating the discovery of Gilpin as the missing "Ceres" artisan.

Length 6.5".
Descended in a family with roots in New Hampshire.
Property of a Midwestern Private Collector.
Sotheby's New York, September 26, 2008, Lot #25.
According to Scrimshaw and Provenance: A Third Dictionary of Scrimshaw Artists by Stuart M. Frank (Mystic, Ct.: Stuart M. Frank and Mystic Seaport Museum, 2013), pp. 121-124, William A. Gilpin, born in 1805, came from a prominent Wilmington, Delaware family. He is known to have made at least two whaling voyages, including an 1834-1837 voyage aboard the whaleship Ceres. It is believed he produced at least 18 scrimshaw whale's teeth and one busk. A similar depiction of Jack Tar, minus the proscenium arch but attributed to Gilpin, can be seen in Through the Eyes of a Collector by Nina Hellman (2015), fig. 41, and was sold as part of the Thomas Mittler Scrimshaw Collection during Eldred's Marine Sale, October 15, 2016, Lot #23. A similar foliate proscenium arch on a tooth by Gilpin is illustrated in Ingenious Contrivances, Curiously Carved by Stuart M. Frank (Boston: David R. Godine, 2012), fig. 3.9. The Barbara Johnson Whaling Collection included at least two similar teeth. One with a nearly identical border and foliate proscenium arch containing a ship portrait was Lot #341 in the December 11-12, 1981 auction at Sotheby's, and one more simply rendered but with a similar border, depiction of Jack Tar and foliate proscenium arch containing a ship portrait was Lot #395 in the April 29-30, 1983 auction at Sotheby's."


Mellow age patina. Minor age cracks and no chipping. Remarkably well preserved.

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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