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THE CONSTITUTION TOOTH

Scrimshaw on antique sperm whale tooth
on rosewood, ebony, and mammoth ivory mount.
8"H x 4"W x 1.75"D (tooth only)
12"H x 5"W x 3.5"D (overall)

Winner of the Rudolph J. Schaefer Maritime Heritage Award 
at the 1998 Mystic International Marine Art Exhibition

Private Collection

 

DETAIL of  THE CONSTITUTION TOOTH

The scrimshaw focuses on Constitution's most glorious period of service, the War of 1812. Pictured on the front are her three commanders during the war, Captain Isaac Hull, Commodore William Bainbridge, and Captain Charles Stewart. The sides are decorated with cutlasses of the period and the sword Captain Hull carried during the action with HMS Guerriere. On the right side at bottom is an engraving of an enlisted seaman carrying a cutlass. On the left side is an engraving in honor of 1st Lieutenant William S. Bush who was the first U.S. Marine officer to be killed in combat during Constitution's battle with Guerriere.

On the back are depictions of Constitution's four major actions during the War of 1812. The scene at lower left (her first action of the war) shows her being chased by a British squadron. The chase took place in flat calm conditions over a three-day period off the New Jersey coast. Only through the superb seamanship of Captain Hull and the untiring efforts of her whole crew was she able to escape. If captured, there would never have been an "Old Ironsides".

At lower center the Constitution battles Guerriere. The action took place about 200 miles east of Halifax and was the first great American naval victory of the war. Captain Hull's victory electrified the nation and united the people solidly behind the war effort.

To the lower right is the action against HMS Java. The battle, fought off the coast of Brazil, was hotly contested, but in the end, the heavier construction and gunnery of Constitution proved to be the decisive factors. Commodore Bainbridge's victory was proof that the earlier victory against Guerriere was no fluke.
At the top is Constitution's fight against two British ships, the frigate Cyane and the ship-sloop Levant, which took place about 180 miles to the west-southwest of the Madeira Islands. In a remarkable demonstration of seamanship Captain Stewart prevented the English ships from combining forces and perhaps overwhelming the Constitution. Stewart was able to decisively engage and defeat each of them in turn.

This magnificent bull sperm whale tooth came from the estate of a retired naval officer who obtained it in Hawaii just prior to the outbreak of World War II. Teeth of this size are quite rare. To have one that also boasts such pleasing dimensions and extraordinary surfaces to engrave was an exceedingly rare privilege.
 

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