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Fabulous Scrimshaw

After quite an absence from the blog, I am back and will hopefully be able to keep up. It’s been a busy fall season for us and is unlikely to let up anytime soon, but it’s definitely time to highlight some more of our beautiful artifacts. One piece I came across the other day while looking up Cape Horn is an intricate scrimshaw clock holder.

It was made by a Charles B. Tobey in Cape Horn, 1819; markings which clearly be seen on the back of the piece. The imagery on the front top shows two women, one holding a cross, the other holding an anchor and another woman with three children. At the bottom is a man and woman holding hands under a tree.

It is made of bone, baleen, wood, metal, and paper and was purchased by one of our buyers in 1939. Years later, one of our curators started researching the piece trying to discover who Charles B. Tobey could be. After contacting various institutions in New England, it was thought that our man might be Charles Tobey, born 1798 in Nantucket, MA to William and Nancy (Irish) Tobey. On March 11, 1822 this Charles Tobey was master of the ship Lady Adams of Nantucket when she sailed off to the Pacific Ocean. Sometime in 1822-1823 the vessel burned off the coast of Japan, with loss of all aboard. If Tobey had been on previous journeys made by this vessel then he could very well be the artist of our clock holder. On October 25, 1817, Lady Adams made a journey to the Pacific Ocean and returned home late 1819, which would match up to the date and location of our piece.

Above images show the sides of the clock holder. One side shows a couple underneath a tree and another couple at a table. The other side has someone climbing a tree, below which is a memorial urn.

Although we may never know for sure the identity of the Charles Tobey who made this clock holder, the piece still remains an important and compelling artifact.

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