IMPORTANT NANTUCKET SIGNED & DATED WHALEBONE CASK MEASURE....SOLD
One of the earliest known signed and dated pieces of American Scrimshaw.
Nantucket, Massachusetts. Famous whaling-ship captain BARZILLAI COFFIN. Dated March 20, AD 1818. The squared-whalebone is engraved with markings to assess the depth of valuable whale oil in large casks (barrels). Whale oil was prized as an illuminant for its bright, odorless flame.
Barzillai Coffin (1778 - 1853) was of the prominent Coffin family of Nantucket. In 1659, Englishman Tristram Coffin led a group of investors that bought Nantucket from Thomas Mayhew for thirty pounds and two beaver hats. Almost all notable Americans with roots in Nantucket are descended from Tristram Coffin. A great number of his descendants became prominent citizens; many were involved in whaling; many of them died at sea.
Barzillai Coffin, named on this cask measure, captained at least four whaling voyages. From the Shipwreck Library: “The last voyage of the famous captain Barzillai Coffin was a very prosperous one. Rounding Cape Horn without incident, they made excellent progress on the Offshore Grounds. There they gammed with a ship that informed them of a new ground off the coast of Japan. After unloading their oil at Honolulu, they sailed for Japan and filled their hold in record time. Joab, a young harpooneer, was a frequent entry in the mate’s logbooks, and ostensibly earned himself the respect of the entire crew. After a three-hour long struggle with a sperm whale, Joab’s boat-crew suggested he save the mangled harpoon for the newly-established Kingsport tavern, the Knotted Iron…..[from] Barzillai’s son, chief mate Ezra Coffin: “Spent 2 weeks on uncharted island; no points lat. or long. are to be entered. Very misty & strange. Acquired sundry water & fruits, but men were frightened. When Capt. returned, departed with haste.”
HIGH RES IMAGES AVAILABLE:
Carved from whalebone, with whale-tooth end-knob. About 43 inches overall length. Superb condition with just minor partial-loss of the last bottom inch. Provenance: Hyland Granby; private New England collection. A remarkable survivor from early whaling history.