I repeat… working with the antique estate collections has been overwhelming. NONETHELESS, I have really enjoyed it, and I have learned so much.
There is something magical about whaling stories and sailors at sea; but whalers lived a very hard life. Until I started researching, I had no idea that when these men went to sea, they were not gone for months at a time, but for three to five years at a stretch; and there was a good likelihood that many would never return.
Because they were gone for such a long period of time, these sailors became artisans, partially out of necessity; partially because there was so much down time between catches.
Whale bones and teeth became their canvas; and their own, unique art form was created - sometimes primitive; sometimes refined - it really depended on the skill level of the individual. When sailors were at sea, there were no ports to dock in for repair work.
They relied upon their own ingenuity and know-how. They mended sails and repaired nets; and often times made their own tools to make said repairs.
These men had loved ones at home: girlfriends, wives, mothers, children; and they made implements for sewing and cooking or toys for children to give as gifts upon returning from sea.
The estate collection has numerous whalebone instruments made in the mid-1800s by sailors. I am going to be sharing photos and explanations of sewing implements and tools in the next few segments.
Please understand that although I spent hours wrapping and boxing these antiques, I had no idea what they were. All I knew at the time is that these antiques were located in a special cabinet and needed to be handled with care.
So travel with me to the 1800s to learn something about these fascinating instruments that stitchers used to work magic on their finery. Remember: this was the era of handmades - if you wanted to wear it, you made it.
first stop: very rare sewing box
This sewing box is made of wood with whale bone/ ivory details. The handle on the lid is made of wood and detailed with whale bone. The fabric covering at the top of handle is a pin cushion for needles.
I understand that straight pins were expensive and hard to come by until the end of the 1800s when in France new machinery was implemented that could make pins in mass production and inexpensively.
The finials at each of the four corners on each step of the box are made of ivory.
Notice the holes on the front of the box. These same holes are also located on the right and left sides. Each is encircled with whale bone.
As you will see in other photos, these holes are designed to keep thread from tangling and knotting.
When the top lid is removed, you see spools of thread that are held in place by small spikes. The thread is pushed through the corresponding hole and the stitcher is able to unwind the thread without it tangling or knotting.
The next photo shows the sewing box with the lid removed and the top drawer open. All of the spools of thread were in the box just as I found it.
The next photo shows all three drawers open. There is also a frame that pulls out. Truthfully, I am not sure how the frame was used, but it does have a tiny pull knob and is removable from the sewing box.
And finally, one more close-up view of the box (see the tiny knob that pulls out the frame?).
I recently found the maritime/ nautical antiques catalogue from the auction where this piece was purchased. It was just a fluke that I found the catalogue. For reference, this sewing box had an estimated value in the mid-1990s of $550.00 - $600.00.
Next time I will share info & photos of the implements used to make lace in the 1800s.