This is a real treat: From the REDPATH MUSEUM of McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, we have a needlecase of needle-hitching
in sailtwine over a cane (bamboo) core with a nicely done stopper.  The case is done in reversing sections of needlehitching which
produces the herringbone effect and it has been varnished to the point that I doubt a nuclear device could penetrate the finish.  It's
lost it's "keeper" lanyard but it's made even more interesting by the letter that accompanied it when the museum got it...rolled up
inside the case.  (
Thanks to Barbara Lawson!)

"A Very Great Curiosity"

A Cane needle case given me by Mr. Gorham, 2nd mate (of broach)
"Woodsides" who has had it in his possession for fifteen years.  
He got it from his brother, who must have had it from ten to 12 years;
He got it from a very old seaman.   This small case has been all
round the world, (UNCLEAR) around Cape Horn and the Coast of
California, to different parts of Europe, at least ten times: round the
Cape of Good Hope to the East Indies twice: through the western
country as far as the Oregon Territory, to Halifax and Nova Scotia,
and even to Canada.

It is made of cane, hitched with twine, and has two turks-heads on.   
In my opinion it is a great curiosity.

Written at sea on board of ship "Woodside" while on her way to the
East Indies, in Latitude 21.12 South and Longitude 34.11 West.

Wednesday, 7th August, 1844

Jas. Campbell Gibb
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A very nice little lady's sewing basket made of small-stuff in
a macrame-type knotting.  Shows quite a bit of skill in it's
construction and is varnished overall, producing that darker
colour with which we have become familiar.  Lovely bit of
I suppose that when you're
stuck on a ship for three
years that ANYTHING will
help pass the time!  Here's a
toothpick set made of
bone/ivory and tortoise
shell, with a Masonic Hand
which doubles as a lanyard
attachment point.  
Considering that this is
about 3" long when closed,
it shews a considerable
skill on the part of the
maker!  Even the pin that
holds the picks in place is
of tortoise!
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Here is something which is slowly becoming a true rarity... not so much for the item itself, which is a pretty common find in nautical-themed antique
shops, but for the fact that it is undamaged as far as I can tell.  It is a cane which has been made of shark or large ray vertebrae.... carefully scraped
and dried, then size-matched for the taper and threaded onto a metal rod in the shape of a cane.  It was never meant to be a load-bearing 'cane' ,
"per-se", but rather was a decorative thing to carry when ashore or out for a stroll, as well as having enough heft to do some damage as a defensive
weapon should the need arise.  A great many of the shark canes found in shops have one or more vertebrae cracked, broken or missing.  The end of
the handle and the tip of the cane are probably horn, but could be polished baleen, while the black spacers are almost surely baleen.  
Sold in July 2006 for appx. $175.00 USD
Here's a beautiful knot-board,
I'm not sure when it dates from
but it was obviously made by
a VERY experienced marlin-
spike seaman... it has just
about everything you could
want in a display piece:  the
mats and sennits are tightly and
beautifully done and the knots
and bends themselves are
(mostly) clear to see and
cleanly tied.  

Just a fantastic piece of work.

MORE knotboards here!
This is called "A Sailor's
Whimsey" and was
something a sailor might
make to bring back to a
sweetheart or his family.  
In the larger version
(detail) you can see the
wooden framework on
the top level of the item
where the shells have
flaked off (or perhaps
were never placed).  
28" tall, I think it's
supposed to be a
lighthouse.  The shells
are all small whelks and
it'd date to somewhere
around the 1840's.
Another case-in-point:  a pipe-tamper done in the shape of a Lady's leg in walrus or whale ivory.   (Only the picture marked is expandable...sorry.)
A wonderful old knife, listed as being "ca. 1840" with a hand carved ivory handle in the form of a rather good likeness of a West African
face and turban.  14" o.a.
Ladies in the late 1700's and early 1800's wore tightly-fitted bodices which flattened out their of the tools used to keep
the bodice nice and flat in the front was a "busk" or "stay" which went into a pocket in the...ahhh... between the... in short, it gave a new
meaning to the term "decolettage" by forcing the breasts up and out of the top of the bodice.  Well, the intention was to draw attention to
the swell of the breast over the top of the bodice:  to provide support, they used  these:  a pair of busks done by a sailor on a long
voyage and presented to his lady love upon his return... no matter that she could barely breathe....
Another popular item for sailors to make and bring home to their wives and sweethearts were kitchen tools,  such as this pie crimper
which is an
exceptionally nice example of the genre.  They were occasionally VERY ornate or could be as simple as  a crimp-wheel in
a plain bone holder.  This one is done in the shape of an Albatross and has baleen bandings on the body.  The crimp wheel is
exceptionally nice.   Fifty years ago this would have cost (1955 dollars) maybe $20 or so.... now it's worth several thousand.   
A carved (probably Walrus) Ivory fid, 6-1/2
inches long overall, probably used as a
sewing bodkin or buttonholer, but who really

The amount of handcarving on this is
unusual and nicely executed... this took a
while to do!
Speaking of "Ladies Legs" - and. let's face it - there's nothing most sailors would rather talk about, unless its rum or shore leave, both of which lead
us back to...

A rather neat little knife found in the bottom of a ditty bag purchased at a shambles.  Less than three inches closed, it is of bone and was obviously
manufactured as a gewgaw for sailors.  It is, despite it's age, exceedingly sharp and would have been highly useful as a seam ripper or fine trimmer.
Interesting cane...
made (supposedly_ of
a Narwahl tusk.  I doubt
it..) Probably of bone
and worked by a
craftsman to obtain the
twisted end . Shaft is
mostly octagonal and
the whole is nicely
What excited me about this is the provenance AND the workmanship:  Marvelously well done hitching and the kind of thing that
really speaks to the skill of the sailor in those days.... that's a LOT of work!  

Also, the age can be surmised from the provenance:  written in 1844 and going back at LEAST 27 years, and probably more than
that.  I had extrapolated the "a very old seaman" would have probably been in his sixties:  if he'd made it in his twenties (and
there's nothing to say this might not go back further...might HE not have had it of another?) we can add 40 years to get 67 which
gives us 1773 or so.... possibly made before the American Secession!  

You should, whenever possible, attach such a provenance to anything in your collections for future owner's use.  Mr. Gibb probably
sent this home or to a friend, recognizing it as a collectible item in 1844!
While not 'strictly' an antique, (an item must be over 100 years old to truly qualify for the title, although my wife keeps telling me I'm
one and I have been appraised on "The Antiques Road Show"),
the following fids could be anywhere from a year to several hundred
years old... and it don't signify anyway..)  this is a nice collection
that Rock Taber (that's him in boat out hunting for more goodies) from
Georgia found on MY DOORSTEP!  He was here in S.E. Pennsylvania, in
Chadd's Ford and stopped at "Ye Olde Antique Shoppe" (of which we
have thousands) and this was sitting there screaming at him.  Of course,
he rescued them from death in some housewife's garden as plant stakes.
Hand-sewn workbag which contained the 5
fids:  the largest is 14-1/2 x 2-3/4 and
appears to be of Lignum Vitae... the others
may be as well.

The big fid and the shaped fid are unusual
for their additional workings...the detail on
the top of the largest indicates it was
machine turned and all belonged to a
professional seaman.  Quality stuff.
The bag itself, while not of any outstanding interest, is competently sewn by hand of #8 canvas and shows a deal of skill in the
stitching's fairly regular and well spaced, not overly tightened and is a good example of something made for a working
environment, rather than as an item to 'impress' others.   Altogether a very nice find, and I hate him forever for finding it !
Stunning sterling silver Boatswain's
Call awarded to one Arthur Taylor for
service during the Blockade of Tulon
(1804).  You can read more about this
HERE.  The website is a great
one to explore, as well!

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