This cribbage board, made from a single walrus tusk, is beautifully decorated with scrimshaw—carving on whale bone or ivory which is colored with pigment! Cribbage, a card game invented in the 1600s, is historically a British invention and pastime, though it found its way to American shores on board ships throughout the later 19th and early 20th centuries alongside explorers and colonialists. Embellished boards such as this one, which are used to keep score, were likely made by Alaskan natives for sale to non-natives, as a market for tourist goods blossomed with the arrival of Europeans the late 1800s.
Although the history of the game is long, and scrimshaw was originally done on whaling ships beginning in the mid 1700’s, our cribbage board was collected from St. Lawrence Island by Mr. Edward D. Jones and accessioned into the museum in 1957. If you take a closer look at the detail images taken by our photographer, you can see the holes for the score keeping pegs (“spilikins”) evenly placed among the intricate scrimshaw work.