Alternatives to Scrimshaw Jewelry

What is “scrimshaw?"

Scrimshaw refers to a style of art or jewelry making in which artists carve and engrave designs into bone or ivory. Typically the designs are done on whale teeth/bones, walrus tusks, or elephant tusks. The art dates back about 200 years to the whaling days in which sailors would carve designs on whale teeth while out at sea.

Scrimshaw is an iffy business and there are a lot of rules and regulations that go into the sale and creation of scrimshaw.

Scrimshaw jewelry, carved in ivory

Scrimshaw jewelry, carved in ivory

  • Importing, or any trade or sale of elephant ivory is illegal and banned across the entire globe
  • Elephant ivory acquired before 1989 is the only elephant ivory that can be sold legally or turned into scrimshaw
  • Walrus or Whale ivory dated pre-1973 is also legal to be created or sold as scrimshaw due to the fact that the Marine Mammal Protection Act was passed that year
  • Ivory dated back to ancient times, for example: Mammoth tusks found in the earth are completely unrestricted for sale

Most artists these days that work with scrimshaw either have legal means of getting ivory or bone to work with, have a supply of ivory or whale teeth dating back to long ago, or most commonly scrimshanders collect whale teeth or tusks from estate sales, auctions or antique dealers.

What are the alternatives to scrimshaw?

Scrimshaw is a very unique and specialized form of art, and although it has some significance in history, it is an outdated and controversial topic today. There is clearly still a market for it however, which means that selling an alternative to the style of scrimshaw jewelry has profitability.

Eventually materials to create “traditional” scrimshaw will run out. It’s inevitable that the already legal ivory, tusks, and teeth will be used up and then there won’t be any options other than alternative materials.

Alternatives to scrimshaw can be resin, ceramic, or porcelain pieces that can have the same style and design that traditional scrimshaw pieces have but only on something that was not at one point part of a living animal. These ceramic and porcelain pieces of jewelry have the same look and texture as the bone or ivory and can be carved or etched in the same way.

These materials not only have the same look, but they are easier to acquire and not to mention much cheaper.

Why go to an alternative?

The main reason to consider an alternative to scrimshaw jewelry is PRICE! Ivory, tusks, teeth, etc. are all expensive and difficult to require and it is almost a task in itself to find and purchase these in order to create their art. With porcelain or ceramic, you can get a reliable product in a much easier and legal way that has almost the exact same appearance but at a much cheaper cost.

Suppliers of scrimshaw jewelry, and/or material to create scrimshaw are fading away. Get a sure, reliable supplier of an alternative material and that can make the logistics of your business simpler. This will also allow you to focus on other parts of your organization such as marketing, building your customer base, or increasing revenue.

If you are a retailer who sells scrimshaw, or have a scrimshaw jewelry line, then you probably have a small niche market base that has an interest in that style of art. Common sense allows us to infer that anyone with a strong fondness of animals, or animal activists will never purchase these products and in fact would suggest that the art be banned.

If retailers that are selling scrimshaw jewelry lines adopted an alternative, then their target market could broaden greatly, allowing them to increase their buyers and bring in new types of customers. If you eliminated the morality involved in purchasing scrimshaw art, and used an alternative that is not an animal by-product, then you could appeal to a larger scope of the population while still keeping the original customer base. That could prove to be far more profitable.

Scrimshaw is a valid art form, and is still recognized as a valuable style of jewelry, however, it is beginning to be more difficult to get the ivory or bones that were traditionally used to create it. There are alternatives that can be used in place of animal tusks and teeth, and not to mention these alternatives are more earth friendly and can appeal to a wider range of people.

If you continue to sell scrimshaw styled jewelry as a retailer, consider using a porcelain or ceramic alternative that is more easily attainable, cheaper, and can still be hand crafted with the unique designs that embody the art of scrimshaw.