You know the legends of the vast and secret porn vault maintained beneath the impacted bowels of the Vatican? Well, for us North Americans, it turns out we’ve got a better-documented version of our own. But in ours, the porn is etched on whale ivory.

This is no shit. This is real. The Vancouver Maritime Museum triggered a local controversy (in the form of one nutcase offended local mother) when it included some pieces of scrimshaw featuring nudity and mild erotic themes in a recent exhibition:

soft core scrimshaw porn

For me the interesting part is the basement collection of hardcore scrimshaw porn they won’t show to the public:

Lust was a common theme in 19th-century scrimshaw, which is what this obscure art form — etchings on hard surfaces culled from sea creatures — is called. Scrimshaw was typically made by lonely whalers, trapped for months aboard ships that scoured the South Pacific for their prey, usually sperm whales, magnificent, 50-foot long creatures prized for their oil.

The whalers had idle hands and feverish minds. Scrimshawing was their means of expression, their release valve. Using ship-made hand tools and tobacco juice for ink, they set upon whale leftovers. Some of their work is finely detailed. Some is undeniably erotic.

The museum has “more graphic” examples of scrimshaw, [Museum curator Patricia Owen] says, but these remain hidden downstairs in the museum’s basement. They include depictions of creative candlestick use and what Ms. Owen cautiously describes as “the act.” They will likely never see the light of day.

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