The tradition of the old Dutch sailors says that the word "scrimshaw" comes from the nautical slang and means "wasting time". Considered by some as the only genuinely original form of artistic expression in the United States, it was first practiced by sailors from whaling ships departing , especially in New England, on the east coast . It was to fill the many empty hours that entails such fishing , scraping with a knife or a needle for sewing boat sails on whale teeth or, more usually, walruss tusks to set a pattern that was subsequently revealed with soot, ink or snuff juice .
The reasons for the drawings used to be of nostalgic character, portraits of wives or family back home and also any type of marine animals or sirens. The empty hours on long cruises that took at least five years, were filled whole with engraving ivory pieces that then were lead to their family as keepsake trunks. Scrimshaw became popular in 1960 when John F. Kennedy announced to the public his hobby of collecting pieces decorated with this technique.
It is said that Scrimshanders are persistent characters because they always find some material to "scratch", despite they ban ivory.