Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Fiber Facts (sort of): The Scrimshaw Swift

I was watching Antiques Roadshow with my parents yesterday, and a woman brought in an object she had inherited from her family, who were whalers somewhere in the Northeast. She had no idea that her object, made of whalebone, was an antique swift valued at $15,000-20,000.

Here's another one (which is for sale at Christies for $8,750). I like how this one has a carved hand at the bottom "holding" the swift:

On the show, they explained that whalers would pass their time making swifts and other items out of whale bone. This art form was called scrimshaw, and its practitioners were called scrimshanders (love that word)! In addition to swifts, they would make objects ranging from "simple clothespins and rolling pins to yarn baskets, walking sticks, dolls, rings, bracelets, and spool rack" (according to this article).

Apparently, scrimshaw swifts are highly collectible, and can be found on various auctions websites:

Apparently, these were made by whalers primarily for their loved ones at home, although they may have sold some of their scrimshaw items.


Anonymous said...

Is there a video of how these were used?

Jordynn said...

Here's one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Il2Hw8NcYQM&noredirect=1

People still use swifts today!