Friends of the Nantucket Historical Association Purchase Important Scrimshaw Tooth and Painting for NHA Permanent Collection

NANTUCKET, MA – The Nantucket Historical Association (NHA) is pleased to announce that it is the recipient of two generous gifts from the Friends of the Nantucket Historical Association.

The first is a scrimshaw sperm-whale’s tooth depicting the whaling ship George Clinton of Hudson, N.Y., in 1835, purchased at Eldred’s Auction House in Dennis, MA on July 20, 2017 and currently on display in the NHA Whaling Museum’s Scrimshaw Gallery, located on the second floor.

From 1834 to 1838, Captain Samuel Barrett of Nantucket commanded the George Clinton on a whaling voyage to the Pacific. This tooth depicts an encounter with a pod of sperm whales near remote Enderbury Island. Homeward bound in January 1838, the ship ran ashore in fog on the New Jersey coast. The entire crew survived, and 1,459 barrels of sperm oil were salvaged.

Hudson, N.Y. was founded by eighteen Nantucket families after the American Revolution. Located 100 miles upriver from New York City, the town was far from the threat of foreign privateers and thrived as a whaling port into the 1830s.

“The George Clinton tooth is both a beautiful example of sailor’s scrimshaw art and a key object for telling the story of Nantucketers leaving the island to found communities elsewhere,” says NHA Robyn & John Davis Chief Curator Michael R. Harrison.

The second piece is a painting of the clipper ship Midnight by the Chinese artist Hing Qua, circa 1855. This artwork was purchased from Rafael Osona Auctions on August 5, 2017. The Midnight of Boston was commanded by Nantucketer George Brock from 1858 to 1865, and again from 1860 to 1872. On one voyage to San Francisco, Captain Brock brought his wife and daughter, Susan. Taking Susan onto deck during a storm, he said, “Now look hard and try to remember what you see, for there are not many little girls who ever see Cape Horn” During this same voyage Susan sewed a quilt square that is now in the NHA collection. Susan Brock was later the first curator of the NHA and held the position for forty years.

This painting compliments many items in the NHA’s collection that were brought to the U.S. from China aboard the Midnight, including examples of Chinese porcelain and clothing, gold flakes from Captain Brock’s time in California during the Gold Rush, a commemorative watch presented to him when he commanded the sister vessel Noonday, and many others. The painting demonstrates Nantucketers’ participation in maritime activity well beyond whaling and provides a window for telling stories about Nantucket families on shipboard. The purchase of this artwork by the Friends keeps the painting on island and allows it to be put on public view. It will hang in the Whaling Museum starting in the new year.

“This is the most historically significant Nantucket object that has appeared on the auction market during the time I have been curator at the NHA,” says Harrison. “I am delighted that we are able to preserve it on island and display it alongside other artifacts from the clipper Midnight.”

These artifacts were purchased for the permanent collection by the Friends of the Nantucket Historical Association, who have contributed many of the most significant additions to the NHA over the past thirty years. These include the 2008 purchase of two paintings of the whaleship Spermo from the 1820s and the 2011 purchase of the Back of Nichols’ Barn, ’Sconset, an oil by George Inness.

Support from the Friends of the Nantucket Historical Association, which was organized in 1986 to seek significant acquisitions for the collections of the NHA, has enabled the NHA to acquire numerous artifacts, works of art, and documents, and to ensure that such objects stay on or return to Nantucket to be enjoyed by the people of the island. The organization has also supported such projects as the construction of the NHA’s Gosnold Museum Support Center; the conservation of artifacts; and the restoration of the parlors in the Hadwen House. The gracious assistance of the Friends has strengthened NHA’s active collecting activities.

The Nantucket Historical Association preserves and interprets the history of Nantucket through its programs, collections, and properties, in order to promote the island’s significance and foster an appreciation of it among all audiences.

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