Scrimshaw crafted before 1989 (elephant) or before 1973 (sperm whale ivory, walrus ivory, etc.) is legal. It is prohibited after those years for commercial import in the USA. Ancient ivory, such as mammoth or fossilized walrus ivory, is unrestricted in sale or possession.
The origin of the word “scrimshaw” is somewhat obscure, but most researchers agree that it probably came from the Old Dutch word skrimshank which means “a waste of time” – as scrimshaw was enjoyed by seamen as the occupation to kill time.
The simplest way is to examine your scrimshaw with a magnifying glass. Plastic items will look completely smooth, while real bone will have a grain.
Whale bones adorned with a dainty engraving are valuable pieces of art, and some people pay a pretty penny for scrimshaw knives and other pieces. Prices can range from less than $1,000 to $7,500 or more.
Only elephant scrimshaw crafted before 1989 is legal. Ancient ivory, such as mammoth tusk or fossilized walrus ivory, is unrestricted in sale or possession.
You can make a scrimshaw yourself as long as you’ve got a Scrimshaw Kit or a scribing tool or a needle, a pin vise, glass marking pencils, black ink, swabs or toothpicks for inking, sandpaper and fine steel wool or a soft cloth for polishing.