Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Sleuthing a Sailor-made Object

Back in November of 2012 we posted an item about a piece of scrimshaw done by a person known as the MECHANIC artist, so-called because the work was done on the whaler MECHANIC of Newport. Spencer Pratt was identified as that artist in that posting. Since then, Richard Donnelly of Rhode Island, an avid sleuth where Spencer Pratt and his handiwork are concerned, delivered a paper about Pratt at the New Bedford Whaling Museum’s Scrimshaw Weekend. A new development in his presentation was the fact that Mystic Seaport also owns a whalebone swift and inlaid box made by Pratt. The box is almost identical to one owned by the Bristol Historical and Preservation Society in Bristol, Rhode Island. Not only has Mr. Donnelly made an almost fool-proof case that Pratt is the MECHANIC artist, he has made just as strong a case that these two swift boxes, and another four boxes held elsewhere, are from the same hand.

Mystic Seaport Accession #'s 1964.1134 and 1964.1135 

The box (with swift attached)  is the Mystic Seaport object. The other is from Bristol. The size of the box, method of construction, motif and more give a solid indication that they were built by the same person. Additional evidence from other known boxes all point to the same hand. Not only was Pratt an accomplished box maker, but as existing sperm whale teeth attributed to him attest, a talented scrimshander as well. Thanks to Richard Donnelly for the research and photographs and for adding depth to the understanding of our collection. 

Unsure of the actual use of a swift? Visit YouTube and search for swift and wool for a tutorial on how a swift works. Consider that the swift pictured above is all hand made. A coin dated 1830 is inserted into the end of one of the swift's knobs, shown at the base of the box.