Circa 1829-1833


Inscribed on lower edge "Engraved. by Edward Burdett. of Nantucket. Onboard of The William Tell." in fine serifed lettering. Obverse titled in the same serifed lettering within a cut-cornered rectangular cartouche "William Tell. Of New-York.". Depicts a whaling scene of the William Tell cutting in and two whaleboats in the water off the bow, in pursuit of a surfaced whale. Reverse titled in the same manner "Friends. Of New-London.". Depicts a starboard view of the whaleship Friends, flying an American flag off the stern and with three whaleboats on davits, heading toward port. Off the bow is a sloop flying a red pennant and a hilly coastline with a lighthouse and the keeper's house. A red berry vine wraps almost entirely around the circumference of the base. As typical of Burdett's work, the scenes exhibit extensive details including a lookout in a mast and two figures on deck of the William Tell, the billowing American flag on the Friends, an arrow weather vane atop the lighthouse and smoke emanating from the house's chimney. Fine use of red sealing wax in the figures, flags, whale, whale blubber and buildings. Deeply carved ship hulls and sperm whale. Excellent even patina.
Length 7.75".
Condition: Reverse with fine age line running approx. 2.5" through the center, crossing into the rigging of the ship. Other scattered age lines at tip and base, as typical.
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  • Provenance:
    A Private Massachusetts Collection, descended in the family for more than 70 years.
    A journal entry from the consignor's grandmother describes the purchase of a whale's tooth decorated with ships from Mary Lafler for one dollar, which may possibly be this tooth.

    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. The William Tell probably encountered the Friends during either her 1827-1830 or 1830-1834 whaling voyages. The ship Friends is depicted on at least three other Burdett teeth, one that was part of the Kendall Whaling Museum Collection, one in the Mystic Seaport collection and the third presented later in this auction.

    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.

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August 19, 2021 9:30 AM EDT
East Dennis, MA, US


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