Anchors Aweigh At 5th Annual Nautical Antiques Show And Scrimshaw Weekend

NEW BEDFORD, MASS. — Thanks to high quality, low price and speedy delivery, food trucks do a booming business these days. Can a similar formula work for antiques? It can and does at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, where the fifth annual Nautical Antiques Show was an unqualified success on Friday, May 16, drawing a knowledgeable and highly motivated crowd of buyers and sellers together for six hours of intensive trading.

The show, falling at the end of Brimfield Week and preceding the museum’s annual Scrimshaw Weekend — a three-day program of lectures, workshops and roundtable discussions now in its 26th year — opened at 11 am in the museum’s airy, multilevel lobby under the skeletal remains of three whales, the longest 66 feet.

Eighteen exhibitors, including many of the field’s best-known names, displayed a pirate’s ransom of marine art, artifacts, models, instruments, tools, books, prints, photographs and, of course, scrimshaw. While a few exhibitors opted for walls, most spread their wares out on tables. Barrington, R.I., dealer Richard Donnelly and Sandy Moss, a retired marine biologist, antique tools enthusiast and museum volunteer, organized the fair. Admission was only $5.

“I can’t remember the last time I did a show without my wife, Janice Hyland, or paid only $150 in booth rent,” said Hyannis Port, Mass., dealer Alan Granby, who brought a Susan’s tooth, the holy grail of scrimshaw collecting, to the show. “In a place like this, you don’t have to explain what it is,” he noted.

Another Winter Antiques Show alumnus, Hill-Stone, Inc, featured high-quality prints and drawings, among them a set of ten designs for sea monsters by Adriaen Collaert, Antwerp, printed by Collaert’s father-in-law Philips Galle, circa 1581–82.

“They are so rare that Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum doesn’t even have a complete set,” said Alan Stone.

Greg Gibson of the Ten Pound Island Book Company unveiled a circa 1615 print of Jonah and the whale by Antwerp printmaker Marten de Vos. “The show was crowded most of the day with a niche audience, knowledgeable and highly focused. I see a happy future for us here,” Gibson blogged. The Gloucester, Mass., dealer, bought well, too. On his way to New Bedford he acquired an important version of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, illustrated by Barry Moser, and at the show found a whaling journal kept by Captain Loring Braley aboard the schooners Cohannet and William Wilson during voyages in the Atlantic between 1872 and 1875.

“It’s by the same maker as one owned by Barbara Johnson and, later, Ralph Esmerian. That one brought $23,750 at Sotheby’s in January. Mine is $3,500,” said Richard Donnelly, directing a visitor’s attention to a Nineteenth Century cane with a whale ivory handle fashioned as a woman’s crooked leg and boot.

At work on a book on the scrimshaw collection of the late Thomas Mittler, Nina Hellman, who spoke on Saturday, said that she has closed her Nantucket shop but will continue in business as a private dealer. She featured a scrimshaw sewing box attributed to Sag Harbor, N.Y., whaling Captain Barney Green, circa 1850, for $12,500.

“I’ve attended this show since its inception. This year was the best yet. The organizers brought in some great new dealers and with that, a fine selection of scrimshaw and marine antiques. Attendance was excellent and there was a lot of knowledge on the floor,” said Parke Madden of Paul Madden Antiques, Sandwich, Mass.


Scrimshaw Lectures

Guests gathered Friday evening for the first of a series of informative talks. James Vaccarino, a member of the New Bedford Whaling Museum’s Scrimshaw Forensics team, led with a presentation on scrimshaw in the collection of Peabody Essex Museum.

The following day, Paul E. Vardeman, a retired judge, scrimshaw historian and collector from Kansas City, Mo., made a persuasive case for the reassignment of much scrimshaw once attributed to the Nantucket whaleman Edward Burdett to a still unidentified English scrimshander known as the Britannia Engraver.

Stuart M. Frank, New Bedford Whaling Museum senior curator emeritus, gave a companion lecture on Burdett, among the most highly prized makers of American scrimshaw. In a follow-up presentation he offered suggestions for imaginative ways to collect whaling-related artifacts and documents on a budget. Andrew Jacobson, a dealer in marine antiques and Americana, rounded out the day with an insightful overview of the auction market for antique scrimshaw over the past 12 months.

For a look at the contemporary art of scrimshaw, organizers turned to the Australian artist Gary Tonkin, who practices a highly sophisticated form of pictorial engraving in a country where whaling remained legal until 1979.


Ivory Regulations

Saturday ended with a banquet, a film and a final presentation, but not before participants aired their concerns over new government regulations aimed at stopping the slaughter of African elephants. Scrimshaw collectors fear that banning most trade in elephant ivory will damage the marine market, as well. While the new rules do not specifically target scrimshaw or ban the trade in antique objects made of whale ivory, bone or baleen, marine arts enthusiasts fear that enforcement will be ill-informed and erratic, and that, for buyers and sellers, the burden of proof will be high.

After meeting Saturday evening and again Sunday morning, an ad hoc group agreed to the formation of a new society, called the Antique Scrimshaw Collectors Association, whose purpose it is to preserve and promote the art of the whaleman, a Nineteenth Century phenomenon.

“We are trying to preserve the rights of collectors and dealers to freely own and trade legally acquired antique scrimshaw. Ivory derived from the toothed whale is already regulated by the Endangered Species Act [ESA], the Marine Mammal Protection Act [MMPA] and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora [CITES]. We are highly regulated and the problems have been few and far between,” said Andrew Jacobson.

Jacobson is encouraged by May 15 amendments to the Director’s Order No. 210, first issued February 25, 2014. “We believe that Fish and Wildlife listened carefully to our concerns and kicked our suggestions upstairs with some results. The elimination of the ‘antiques port’ clause and the inclusion of domestically created antiques makes it possible for the majority of true antiques already in the United States to enjoy the antiques exception. It also seems that the majority of antique scrimshaw created with sperm whale material has reverted to the old rules of the 1973 Endangered Species act,” said the dealer.


Fish & Wildlife Service Updates Ivory Directive

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The US Fish and Wildlife Service on May 15 announced two new actions relating to commercial trade in elephant ivory. The revised director’s order allows musicians to internationally transport certain musical instruments containing African elephant ivory. It also allows for the import of museum specimens and certain other items not intended for sale.

Owners of these items must prove that they were legally acquired prior to February 26, 1976 — the date that the African elephant was listed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) — and have not been bought or sold since February 25, 2014 — the date when the service issued Director’s Order 210, which instructs agency staff how to enforce existing restrictions on the commercial trade of elephant ivory.

According to the order, the antiques market is to be regulated in the following ways:

*A US dealer may sell antique African elephant ivory if he can demonstrate that the ivory was lawfully imported prior to January 18, 1990, and ivory imported under a CITES pre-Convention certificate can be sold within the United States (across state lines and within a state). Asian elephant ivory sold in interstate commerce within the United States must meet the strict criteria of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) antiques exception.

*Because the current rules regarding interstate commerce are different for African elephant ivory compared to Asian elephant ivory, a seller must be able to identify the ivory to species. This could be demonstrated using CITES permits or certificates, a qualified appraisal or documents that detail date and place of manufacture, etc.

*The service no longer allows any commercial importation of African elephant ivory. This prohibition, which was originally established via the 1989 African Elephant Conservation Act (AECA) moratorium, applies even to items that qualify as antiques.

*The import, export and interstate sale (sale across state lines) of listed species or their parts is prohibited without an ESA permit except for items that qualify as antique. To qualify as antique, the importer, exporter or seller must show that the item meets all of these criteria: it is 100 years or older; it is composed in whole or in part of an ESA-listed species; it has not been repaired or modified with any such species after December 27, 1973; and it is being or was imported through an endangered species “antique port.” The 13 designated ports are Boston, New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Miami, San Juan, New Orleans, Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Anchorage, Honolulu and Chicago.

*The service will accept any record or document that substantiates either the date of import (for example, a copy of the relevant Form 3-177 Declaration for Importation or Exportation of Fish or Wildlife or CITES export or re-export permit) or that demonstrates that the item was in the United States before the Appendix I listing date (for example, a datable photo of the owner with the item, a dated letter or other document referring to the item).

*These actions will not affect ivory derived from other species such as walrus, warthog, hippopotamus, mammoth and mastodon. Asian elephant ivory is already regulated under the ESA and CITES. Ivory derived from toothed whales is already regulated by the ESA, CITES and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Strict application of the definition of antique may limit some Asian elephant and whale ivory trade.

*Proceed with caution if you intend to purchase a product made of ivory. Ask for documentation that shows the species and age of the ivory item you are purchasing. This documentation could include CITES permits or certificates, certified appraisals, documents that detail date and place of manufacture, etc. It is possible to identify elephant ivory from other types of ivory.

*The maximum penalty for violating the ESA is one year in prison and a $100,000 fine for an individual, $200,000 for an organization. Those who engage in illegal wildlife trade under the ESA may also face prosecution under the Lacey Act’s anti-trafficking provisions (maximum penalty of five years in prison and fines of $250,000 for an individual or $500,000 for an organization).

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