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Scrimshaw Tooth with Masonic Symbols and Portrait of John Coustos
1825-1850
Maker not marked
USA
Whale tooth, ink
overall: 5-1/4"h x 3-1/4"w x 1-1/2"d
Special Acquisitions Fund
80.40.1

Scrimshaw whale tooth. On front is a bust portrait of a man (John Coustos (1703-1746) in an oval surrounded by glory rays. Below this is an arrangement of Masonic symbols, including: mosaic pavement, a pair of columns, a Bible, beehive, square and compasses on top of a stylized altar, and stars. On the back are the remains of a scratched name thought to be "John Coustos." Parts of the design on the front are colored with red and green stain.


John Coustos was born in Berne, Switzerland in 1703. A jeweler, he was initiated as a Freemason in 1730. In 1743, he moved to Lisbon, Portugal where he was a founding member, and Master, of a Masonic lodge. Shortly after, Coustos was arrested and tortured at an Inquisition in Lisbon because he would not reveal the secrets of Freemasonry. In 1746, after his release, he published an account of his experience. He died in 1746. This scrimshaw whale tooth features a portrait, likely of John Coustos (1703-1746). The Inquisition tortured Coustos, a Swiss-born British citizen, for organizing a Masonic lodge in Lisbon, Portugal. Upon his release, Coustos wrote a sensational book--illustrated with his portrait--about his experience. Many readers admired him for keeping his Masonic vows under the strain of torture. The scrimshander who decorated this tooth may have used Coustos’ story and likeness as inspiration for his design. For further information, see Blog post, October 22, 2013 http://nationalheritagemuseum.typepad.com/library_and_archives/2013/10/to-help-pass-unoccupied-time-on-long-sea-voyages-whalers-and-sailors-crafted-both-fanciful-and-useful-objects-out-of-materia.html



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