Tigers Eye Fine Imports is a father and son wholesale business operated out of Newport, Rhode Island. We feature unique artisan items, hand crafted ancient ivory carvings, hand engraved scrimshaw, rare fossil shark teeth, tagua nut carvings, larimar, and fine gemstone jewelry.
In the 1950s president John F Kennedy, among other notable accomplishments, harbored an impressive scrimshaw collection in the White House. Most agree it was his unique admiration that revitalized the public’s appreciation for this traditional folk art.
Modern scrimshaw is the art of engraving on legal ivory or bone. It is one of the first truly American folk arts. Materials can include antique sperm whale teeth, fossil walrus tusk, ancient mammoth ivory, antique elephant tusk, shed deer and moose antler, cow bone, and hippo tusk.
This folk art originated with the native Alaskan Inuit tribes, who utilized every part of an animal for food, clothing, tools, and creativity. The white of the tusk acted like a blank canvas, ready to be etched with scenes of the artist’s desire. Through exploration and cultural appropriation, the American whalers of the 19th century adopted this art and practiced it frequently. They cherished the pastime greatly as all of the materials needed could be found handy on board their whaling vessel. The teeth from the sperm whale were available as excess material after capturing, a scribe to engrave was made from a sailing needle, and soot from lamp black was mixed with whale oil to create an ink. It is likely that the process for engraving scrimshaw came naturally to sailors as it is so similar to the art of tattooing.
Fast forward several hundred years, and you will still find an appreciation for this traditional American folk art. In 1978, my uncle Daniel Kiracofe opened a quickly successful scrimshaw store in Boston. Witnessing the lucrative nature of this business, coupled with a love for art and history, my father wasn’t far behind in opening a store of his own in 1982.
I have been working in his store, Newport Scrimshanders, for over 10 years. In the summer of 2013, we were approached by our friend Saddiq, a self created wholesale business owner of over 30 years who supplied the store with many fine goods. He offered to sell us his business and teach us his ways. Together, my father and I are excited to embark on this adventure, and wish to continue to provide retailers with all of the same exquisite items for many years to come!