Reardon Collection of Scrimshaw and Carvings

Overhead view of small walrus carving
One item from the Reardon Collection (SAFR 24106)

NPS/Chris Wilhite

The Reardon Collection of scrimshaw and carvings at San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park contains a wide range of beautiful examples of American sailor's arts. Scrimshaw, developed by sailors on board whaling ships in the late 18th century, was first performed on smoothed and polished surfaces of whale teeth or walrus tusks--sometimes even hippopatamus tusks. Such teeth and tusks were often carved into decorative or utilitarian objects which were made as gifts, as objects intended for sale or trade, or as tools for the sailor's own use. These creations included figurines, pie crimpers, and even cribbage boards, and sometimes the sailors made objects for their own use aboard ship, including knife handles and seam rubbers.

The Reardon Collection contains many examples of all of these art forms as well as containing teeth that serve as examples of the material that sailors would have used. Compiled by Donald V. Reardon (1914-2005), U.S. Coast Guard captain, naval architect, and marine inspector, Captain Reardon's vast interests included not only maritime arts and book collecting, but becoming an accomplished book binder, gardener, and photographer. In addition to the Reardon Collection of scrimshaw and carvings, the Park's collections also contain art, vessel plans, and books collected by Captain Reardon.

The video below is a silent presentation created as an online exhibit of some of the lovely and interesting items from the Reardon Collection, as well as an introduction to these sailor's arts. For more information on these or other Park collections, please contact us.


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20 minutes, 20 seconds

A silent video presentation of scrimshaw and carvings from San Francisco Maritime NHP's Reardon Collection.

Last updated: February 9, 2017

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