Mittler Scrimshaw Soars at Eldred's Marine Art Auction

  • EAST DENNIS, Massachusetts
  • /
  • October 17, 2016

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Scrimshaw whale's tooth by W.L. Roderick, sold for $180,000 at Eldred's Marine Art Auction on Saturday.

East Dennis, Mass. – Bidding on three lots from Thomas Mittler Scrimshaw Collection surpassed $100,000 before the hammer dropped Saturday before a packed house at Eldred’s Marine Art Auction. The top lot was a scrimshaw whale’s tooth by W.L. Roderick that sold for $180,000, a record price for the scrimshander. Titled “In Shore Whaling The Death” the large tooth, length 8.5”, depicted a highly detailed whaling scene, was inscribed “The Tooth of a Sperm Whale Captured March 30th 1855” and was signed by Roderick.


The Thomas Mittler Scrimshaw Collection is widely regarded as the best scrimshaw collection to come on the market in 30 years and was the subject of the 2015 book, “Through the Eyes of a Collector: The Scrimshaw Collection of Thomas Mittler”, by scrimshaw historian Nina Hellman of Nantucket, Massachusetts. Mittler, who owned a large welding supply company in the Midwest before his death in 2010, began his scrimshaw collection in 1969 after attending an antiques show at Notre Dame University. This is the first time items from his scrimshaw collection were put up for auction, and the remainder will be sold across two auctions in 2017.

The 60 lots offered in this auction included scrimshaw whale’s teeth and panbone pieces, as well as whaleman-made utilitarian items like pie crimpers, watch towers and busks. The other lots breaking the $100,000 hammer mark were a pair of polychrome scrimshaw whale’s teeth with naval scenes, which sold for $132,000, and a pair of scrimshaw whale’s teeth depicting colorfully dressed women by Long Island whaleman Manuel Enos, which sold for $120,000. Other highlights include a whale’s tooth depicting the burning of the U.S.S. Philadelphia in Tripoli Harbor, which sold for $78,000, a tooth by the Lady Wellington engraver, known for the face of a fish depicted on its tip, which sold for $54,000, and a rare whaleman-made birdcage, purportedly Mittler’s favorite item in his collection, which sold for $25,200.  

“The auditorium was completely full but the room was silent,” said Bill Bourne, company Vice President and head of the Maritime Art department at Eldred’s. “We had the ‘who’s who’ of scrimshaw either in the room or on the phone. From my perspective from the block, everyone was paying very close attention and bidding was very methodical. You could feel the energy and excitement in the room.”

In addition to the Thomas Mittler Scrimshaw Collection, the 540-lot sale also included yachting memorabilia from the Estate of Robert Tiedemann of Newport, Rhode Island, nearly 150 marine paintings, antique navigational instruments, and a variety of sailor-made crafts. Other highlights include a silver travel cup that accompanied celebrated Naval officer John “Mad Jack” Percival when he captained the U.S.S. Constitution on her only circumnavigation, which sold for $12,000, an eight-day barometer with extraordinarily complex gimbal, which sold for $9,375, and a logbook and presentation model from the America’s cup defender yacht Resolute, which sold for $9,000. An 18th Century frontispiece engraving “A New Sea Quadrant. Invented, Made & Sold by Geo. Adams” sold for $5,300, 14 times its pre-sale estimate. Top paintings included an Antonio Jacobsen portrait of the S.S. Servia, which sold for $22,800 and “Summer Sailing Off Chatham Light” by contemporary Cape Cod artist William R. Davis, which sold for $25,200. A Joe Selby portrait of the yacht Juniata, from the Tiedemann Estate, sold for $4,375, over its $1,000/1,500 pre-sale estimate.

Nearly 300 bidders took part in the auction, which was held at the company’s headquarters in East Dennis. “Bidder participation remained strong right to the very last lot,” Bourne commented. “I’m really so pleased with the sale overall. Across the board the results were solid – from the small items to the important pieces of scrimshaw.”

Eldred’s next auction, items from the estate of Rolf and Elizabeth Rosenthal, will be held October 28. Proceeds from the Rosenthal Collection will benefit the Rosenthal Family Foundation, supporting environmental protection. The firm will also conduct a Fine & Decorative Art auction on October 29, an Americana and Paintings auction in November, and an Asian Art auction in December.

About Eldred’s

The Robert C. Eldred Co. is New England's oldest established antiques and fine arts auction house, now in its third generation of ownership under the Eldred and Schofield families at the same location on Cape Cod’s historic Old King’s Highway in East Dennis, Massachusetts. The firm also has an office at 5 Roosevelt Avenue in Mystic, Ct. Eldred’s conducts approximately 25 auctions per year encompassing Americana, paintings, Asian art, European decorative art, maritime antiques, sporting art and collectibles. It was recently named one of the top worldwide auction houses by Art + Auction.

For more information please call (508) 385-3116 or email


Cheryl Stewart
508-385-3116 x128

Robert C. Eldred Co., Inc.
1483 Route 6A
P.O. Box 796
East Dennis, Massachusetts

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