Buyers Bite on Scrimshaw at Eldred's Marine Sale July 19-20

  • EAST DENNIS, Massachusetts
  • /
  • July 24, 2018

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Scrimshaw whale's tooth by the Naval Monument Engraver sold for $396,00 at Eldred's Marine Sale.

East Dennis, Mass. –  Eldred’s, which already held the record for the most expensive piece of scrimshaw ever sold, nearly broke the record again when a whale tooth by the so-called Naval Monument Engraver sold for $396,000 at its Marine Sale, held July 19 and 20 at the firm’s headquarters in East Dennis, Mass. In a sale that saw strong results across the board, the Naval Monument Engraver example was one of four scrimshaw lots that broke the $100,000 mark and was just $60,000 off the world record price, held by an Edward Burdett tooth Eldred’s sold last July for $456,000.


“Wow,” said Bill Bourne, head of Eldred’s Marine Arts Department, summing up his feelings about the day. “When I was driving home the night before the auction, I had a sense something special was going to happen, and I got goosebumps. Even so, the results far exceeded my expectations.”



With very strong results in 2016 and 2017, the firm has positioned itself as the nation’s leading marine art auction house, especially in scrimshaw. In that time frame, Eldred’s has handled both the Mittler and Kobacker scrimshaw collections, two of the most important private scrimshaw collections to ever come to market. Eldred’s sold the Mittler Collection in 2016 and 2017 for $2.1 million, and the first 48 lots from the Kobacker Scrimshaw Collection in November 2017 for $700,000. The last 91 lots from the Kobacker Collection were sold in this auction, including the tooth by the Naval Monument Engraver.


“It’s a wonderful colorful tooth, very similar to an example at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, and it was in great condition,” Bourne said. One side depicts the three-masted American warship Hornet blockading the British ship Citoyenne at the mouth of the port of Salvador, Brazil, during the War of 1812. The reverse depicts the United States squadron fleet under sail in the Mediterranean in 1815. Both images are taken from illustrations from Abel Bowen’s The Naval Monument, which provides the scrimshander’s moniker. Bourne knew his pre-sale estimate of $20,000/30,000 was conservative, but he expressed some surprise at the final total. “Two collectors truly wanted it and they battled for it,” he said.


Other top sellers from the Kobacker collection include a tooth by the Britannia Engraver, depicting a dynamic scene of a whale stoving a boat, which brought $192,000, a tooth by the Pagoda/Albatross Engraver, which sold within estimate for $90,000, and an anonymous tooth with finely rendered whaling scenes on both sides, which tripled its estimate, selling for $66,000. In addition to teeth, the collection included crimpers, swifts and other utilitarian items. Highlights include a whale ivory and whalebone double swift with thread holder base, which sold for $39,000, and a snake-form pie crimper with scrimshaw and mother-of-pearl inlay, which brought $20,400. The Kobacker Collection totaled $1.48 million on the day, more than double pre-sale estimates.


Other exceptional prices on scrimshaw included $102,000 for a polychrome tooth depicting the female pirate Alwilda, the best example of this popular motif to ever come to market, Bourne said, and $96,000 for a pair of teeth by a Ceres Artisan that descended for generations in a Cape Cod family and had never before been offered at auction. An exceptional scrimshaw and inlaid sea captain’s lap desk and a reticulated panbone basket with marquetry inlaid base, both from the featured collection of Carl and Sonia Schmitt, brought which brought $26,400 and $16,800. A large panbone piece depicting a whaling scene sold for $66,000.


Another top seller was a tooth referred to as “The Map Tooth”, which brought $168,000, far over its $60,000/80,000 estimate and the $48,000 it had fetched at a Rafael Osona auction just three years ago. The tooth, which has a finely detailed map/chart of New Bedford Harbor on the obverse and an active whaling scene on the reverse, was once part of E. Norman Flayderman’s collection and is illustrated in his book, Scrimshaw and Scrimshanders, Whales and Whalemen. Recent research concludes Flayderman purchased it from Meylert Armstrong, now considered the preeminent scrimshaw collector in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s.


“The new research certainly helped the price, but it’s important to stress how rare a tooth it is,” Bourne said. “There’s only one other tooth with a map on it, and it’s at the New Bedford Whaling Museum. Buyers took advantage of this extraordinary opportunity to buy an exceedingly rare and interesting piece.” 


While the 250 pieces of scrimshaw were the stars of the sale, other whaling-related items, paintings, sailor’s valentines and Napoleonic prisoner-of-war pieces all saw exceptional prices realized. 


The surprise of the day was an unopened bottle of George Delano’s Sons whale oil, estimated at $400/600, that brought $6,000. The bottle came from a collection of whaling-related material including harpoons and document boxes, which all performed well. “There hasn’t been a nice collection of that kind of material in a long time,” Bourne remarked.


The top selling painting was a view of the ocean-going Bonita of Boston by Montague Dawson (British, 1890-1973), which sold for $66,000. An Antonio Jacobsen (American/Danish, 1850-1921) portrait of the steam/sail vessel Bermuda brought $18,000, and a set of five China Trade gouaches with rare port views sold for $32,400. All sold within estimate.


“While traditional marine artists like Montague Dawson and Antonio Jacobsen faired as expected, we are encouraged by the continued demand for works by contemporary artists like John McCray, William G. Muller, Anthony D. Blake and Roy Cross, all of which sold within or over estimate,” said Joshua Eldred, president of Eldred’s and head of its fine arts department.


Other top lots selling within or over estimate include a gilded figurehead in the form of a mermaid, believed to be off the circa 1929 luxury steam yacht Hi-Esmaro, which brought $18,000, a large double sailor’s shellwork valentine, which sold for $8,400, and a bone model of a privateer, which brought $15,600.


“Exceptional items brought exceptional prices and most other prices were consistent with the current market,” Eldred said. “We are extremely pleased by the overall results of the sale. It’s been our strongest marine sale in years, which is especially remarkable given the success of the past two Marine Sales. It’s gratifying to see our commitment to marine arts pay off with such an oustanding auction.”


Gregg Dietrich, a senior consultant with the firm, echoed Bourne and Eldred’s comments. “Given the success of the sale, anchored by the exceptional scrimshaw and whaling material and by the strong results for sailor-made art and artifacts, we are already looking forward to our next Marine Sale, scheduled for this November. We have a number of important consignments already in-house and will be actively seeking additional consignments over the next few months.”


Those wishing to consign items to Eldred’s next Marine Sale are encouraged to call 508-385-3116 or email


Eldred’s next auction, of Americana and Paintings, will be held August 1, 2 and 3 at the company’s headquarters. The sale features more from the Folk Art Collection of Carl and Sonia Schmitt of Walla Walla, Washington, as well as items from an important Nantucket collection and a Mystic, Ct., estate. All lots can be viewed on the company’s website, All three sessions begin at 10 a.m. EST. Eldred’s is located at 1483 Route 6A, East Dennis, Mass. Interested bidders can visit the firm’s website or call 508-385-3116 to register to bid via phone, absentee bid or online. Online bidding hosted by will also be available. Those wishing to bid live in the audience may register at the offices the day of the auction.


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, Conn. 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 and holds auction records across a wide range of collecting areas. 


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



Cheryl Stewart

1483 Route 6a
East Dennis, Massachusetts
About Eldred's

Eldred's is New England's oldest established antiques and fine arts auction house. Approximately 25 auctions are held year-round encompassing Americana, Asian Art, Americana and European paintings, European decorative art, Maritime antiques, and collectibles.

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