Oil, Spermaceti, Ambergris, and Teeth: Products of the Nineteenth- Century Pacific Sperm-Whaling Industry


Nancy Shoemaker considers the four main products harvested in the nineteenth-century Pacific sperm whale trade: oil, spermaceti, ambergris, and teeth. Arguing that the first three were considered as commodities, used mainly for lighting or perfume fabrication, Shoemaker suggests that whales’ teeth catered to a more niche market. Used as a form of currency with Pacific Islanders in the Oceania trade, whales’ teeth also served as a blank template for cultural inscription, often being used to create engravings and household implements, and today have become extremely valuable as meaningful relics of the trade.

DOI: 10.5282/rcc/8958