Circa 1831-1835


The only known examples of authentic scrimshaw that document a whaling voyage in the manner of a log. Engraved aboard the New Bedford whaleship Timoleon during an 1831-1835 voyage, one signed by Sheffield. Teeth labeled "No. 8" and "No 9" at tips, indicating this pair is most likely part of a larger series chronicling the voyage, with an indeterminate number of other "log teeth" yet to be discovered.

"No. 8" tooth engraved in cursive lettering "No. 8 N. West Coast July 29" 1833 Lat. 37 10. N. Lon. 125. 00. W. Took 6 Whales." above a ship portrait captioned in serifed lettering "Sept 20 1833 Anchored in St Barbara Sept 29 Sail'd for Todos Santos Bay". Decorative rules and flourishes are interspersed between lines of text, figures are visible on board the ship, and geometric bands line the edges. Signed on reverse "Josiah Shefield [sic] Jr" within an oval border, the lettering surrounding a stylized compass rose. Sheffield spelled incorrectly here is believed to be a "typographical" error.

"No 9" tooth engraved in serifed lettering, matching the caption on the "No. 8" tooth, "Oct 3 1833 Anchor'd in Todos Santos "9" Sail'd for Turtle Bay Nov 7 " Off C. St. Lus. Lat. 22.42 N. Lon 110.08 W. Took 2 Whales 110 bbls" above crossed American flags on arrow-tipped poles set on a stepped plinth. Engraved below in the same serifed lettering "Oct 14 Anchor'd in Turtle Bay. & Cooper'd 1000 bbls, 31 Sail'd for Cape St Lucas". A stylized compass rose, the same as seen at the center of the signature on the "No. 8" tooth is set between "Took 2 Whales" and "110 bbls", and some additional rules are interspersed between lines of text. The flags and plinth are very finely rendered. Reverse with a rectangular frame containing a portrait of a figure in a long gown standing and holding a small book or purse.

The teeth are believed to come from the same jaw and have a mellow age patina.

Accompanied by a January 11, 2006 letter and a copy of a January 12, 2009 letter, both from Stuart M. Frank, Ph.D., Senior Curator, New Bedford Whaling Museum, describing in detail the artistic and historical significance of this pair of teeth. In both letters he remarks about the misspelling of "Sheffield", an error regarded as "understandable and unimportant, and in no way diminishing the solid attribution". Also includes clippings and photographs pertaining to Sheffield scrimshaw.
Lengths 6" and 6.25". Includes stands.
Condition: "No. 8" tooth with chip lower left corner, approx. .5" x .5". Engraving of figure on reverse of "No 9" tooth is worn, with some loss of ink. Typical uneven bases. Scattered age lines.

This item not available for international delivery.

  • Provenance:
    James D. Julia, Fairfield, Maine, January 26, 2006, Lot #437. Catalog notes state the teeth were found in a house in upper New York State on the shore of Lake Ontario.
    Hyland Granby Antiques, Hyannis Port, Massachusetts.
    The Collection of Ian R. MacKenzie.

    "Scrimshaw" by Nancy N. Johnston, published in Antiques & Fine Art Magazine, 2006.
    To be included in Wandering Whalemen and Their Art: A Collection of Scrimshaw Masterpieces by Alan Granby (Hyannis, Mass.: Alan Granby, fall 2021), Chapter Three - Early Scrimshanders, plates 3.17a, 3.17b and 3.17c. The book will accompany a four-month scrimshaw exhibit to be held at the Cahoon Museum of American Art in Cotuit, Massachusetts.

    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), p. 249-250, Josiah Sheffield, Jr. was born in 1807 on Nantucket to parents who hailed from Rhode Island. It is likely his first whaling voyage was aboard a Nantucket ship, and then he served aboard the New Bedford ship
    Averick from 1828 to 1831, though he was listed as Jonah Sheffield, rather than Josiah. His third and last whaling voyage was from 1831 to 1835 aboard the New Bedford ship Timoleon , during which he produced these teeth.

    Earlier in the same voyage he produced a larger work, known as the "Timoleon Tooth", signed "J. Sheffield Jr" and dated June 1833, which has a a portrait of the
    Timoleon , a verse, and lists the captain and officers. It is part of the New Bedford Whaling Museum Collection and is illustrated in Ingenious Contrivances, Curiously Carved by Stuart M. Frank (Boston: David R. Godine, 2012), fig. 3:2a and 3:2b. An unsigned tooth by Sheffield, illustrated in Scrimshaw and Scrimshanders, Whales and Whalemen by E. Norman Flayderman (New Milford, Ct.: N. Flayderman & Co., Inc., 1972), p. 16, is dated July 3, 1833 and also has a portrait of the Timoleon , lists the mates and documents a capture. This tooth sold at the Richard A. Bourne Company, Hyannis, Massachusetts, May 30, 1990, Lot #56.

    Interestingly, Sheffield's
    Timoleon shipmate John H. Ricketson, also produced a tooth chronicling the voyage, with a table of ports visited and corresponding dates. It is also in the New Bedford Whaling Museum Collection and is illustrated in Ingenious Contrivances, Curiously Carved, fig. 3:3b and in Scrimshaw and Scrimshanders ..., p. 17.

    Sheffield settled in Fabius, New York, then by 1870 had moved to Maquoketa, Iowa, with his second wife Mary and daughter Mary. He died there in 1880.

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