Day 2 on Nantucket was for taking in some of its history. First stop: The Whaling Museum. This is a fascinating place to learn not just about the whaling industry but also black citizens and women in the history of Nantucket. For such a small island there is a rich history of its people and industries. If you have time to see little else, you will not be disappointed in the riches the Whaling Museum has to offer.
Sperm whales were the oil fields of the sea. Humans have always needed oil for everything from cooking to candles. Spermaceti oil was valued for many uses such as heat and light, ointments and lubricants. The head case holds 3-4 tons of oil.
The photograph above right shows the huge press used for processing the oil. The beam is the weight that bore down on the pressure plate to separate the waxy solids from the oil.
Scrimshaw and Lightship Baskets are symbolic crafts of the Island, made by sailors to pass the time. However these crafts are valuable works of art, finely crafted, and still sought after. In the photo below left are scrimshaw sperm whale ivory teeth. Generally the more yellow, the older they are. Sailors also made many useful items from whale ivory and bone. Exquisitely carved pie crimpers were widely popular. Sailors made a myriad of household and decorative items to sell when back on shore to supplement their meager income.
Lightships were “floating lighthouses” commissioned in 1856 by Massachusetts to provide light to ships sailing the treacherous shoals south of Nantucket. Sailors brought the craft of basketmaking with them.
What signifies a Nantucket Lightship Basket? Native American baskets were the forerunners, while the solid wooden base idea came from New Hampshire workbaskets. Coopers traded with merchant ships for rattan (canes) from Asia. and wove the baskets on board the lightships. They were made on a wood mold, lending them beautiful bowl shapes. 1870-1890 is when historians believe the finest baskets were made.