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Fakeshaw - is it a fake or a scrimshaw reproduction?

Updated on June 8, 2011

Fakeshaw: Fake Scrimshaw or Scrimshaw Reproduction?

Fakeshaw or Scrimshaw Reproduction? That really depends on your point of view. Let's look at the past and present of this hotly debated controversy, then you can decide (and vote!).

Fakeshaw is the name given to imitation scrimshaw, or scrimshaw created on materials other than ivory or bone. For some, anything not created by a whaleman on a ship sailing in the 19th century to early 20th century is not "true scrimshaw", but "modern scrimshaw" or is labelled something else entirely.

Real or Fake? The collector's point of view

Collectors of scrimshaw pay a lot of money for true scrimshaw. "True Scrimshaw" is often narrowly defined as scrimshaw on whalebone or ivory produced in the 19th to early 20th century by whaleman or sailors. For these discerning collectors, anything else is either "modern" scrimshaw or - if recreated on materials other than ivory "fakeshaw."

Authentic or Reproduction? The casual buyer's point of view

The casual buyer is more interested in a good price for a good looking piece of artwork. "Fakeshaw" is perfectly fine, as long as it's not being passed off as authentic scrimshaw, and it looks good. Others prefer scrimshaw on materials other than whale teeth or tusk, as no animals were harmed. Materials include plastics, ceramics and tagua nut (corozo), a vegetable ivory that is sustainably harvested.

Scrimshaw reproduction
Scrimshaw reproduction

Testing for Authenticity

To test for "fakeshaw", there are several visual clues, and there are a couple of "destructive" methods to test. Not to worry, if it's real and tested properly, it won't damage the piece. If it's fake, it will only make a small mark.

Authentic:

*The root cavity of most whale teeth are deep & conical. As a whale ages his teeth continue to grow, but gradually narrow, and the root cavities also narrow and fill-in until practically no cavity exists in very old whales.

*The tip of an authentic whale tooth is yellowish, with a definite sharp line separating tip from the whiter ivory. This is called the "golden crown". The tip may also display very sharp, thin, & short age lines, crossing from ivory to crown.

Fake:

*The base cavity of most fakeshaw is shallow & rounded. The base is often dark, the color of the ink used to fill in the image of the scrimshaw.

*The tip of a fake tooth is the same color as the rest of the resin reproduction, though artificial tinting may be evident to simulate age or crown. Any "age" lines are mold impressed, and usually wide and shallow compared to true age cracks on whale tooth ivory.

Physical Tests:

Hot Pin Test - holding a pin in a pair of pliers and heating it red hot, poke the needle into the inner part of a whale tooth (the underside, in the cavity, so it won't ruin the scrimshaw on the surface. If it smells like the dentist's office when they drill your teeth, it's probably real ivory - if it smells like plastic, it is. Also, if you're testing a piece of jewelry, poke the back or the edge with the pin - if it smells like burned popcorn, it's tagua nut or another "vegetable ivory". NOTE: Many reproductions are now made of different resins and may not smell (or melt) with the hot pin test! If you're still in doubt, bring your scrimshaw to an expert (museum curator) and have them look it over.

See http://www.worthpoint.com/article/tells-give-not-authentic-antique-scrimshaw for a great article by Douglass Moody - a collector I have turned to from time to time!

Wooly mamoths on the move, courtesy wikipedia
Wooly mamoths on the move, courtesy wikipedia

It could be elephant ivory or mammoth ivory too...

Scrimshaw on the tip of an elephant or mammoth tusk could be passed off as "authentic" scrimshaw. If the base is solid and you've determined that it is ivory, it's probably the tip of a tusk. Collectors of whale ivory will know this immediately. You may still have a beautiful piece of scrimshaw, and it could be worth a lot, but collectors will want to see the bottom.

Scrimshaw Reproductions from Amazon

Fakeshaw or Reproduction?

What's your opinion on the fakeshaw/repro debate? Should it be called fakeshaw, or reproduction?

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