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Scrimshaw: Bone carving collection brings a nautical touch with presidential ties to Central Point museum

A scrimshaw collection belonging to the founding family of Harry and David has been donated to the Crater Rock Museum.

Frank Callahan, president of the Roxy Ann Gem and Mineral Society, which operates the Central Point museum, said the collection of about four dozen pieces rivals that of the late President John F. Kennedy, whose 37-piece collection is housed in his namesake library and museum in Boston.

I think this collection is better than JFK's, Callahan said. It's just outstanding. A real humdinger.

The widow of David Holmes Jr., now living in Palm Springs, donated the collection in late November during a visit to the valley, Callahan said.

David Holmes Jr. was the grandson of Sam Rosenberg, who founded Bear Creek Orchards in 1910 in Medford. Rosenberg's sons, Harry and David Holmes, started shipping their fruit by mail-order in the 1930s, the beginning of the Harry and David fruit and gift marketing business. Its Fruit of the Month Club is now a national phenomenon.

The junior Holmes' scrimshaw collection was unveiled at the tiny regional museum last week.

— David used to pal around with JFK so apparently they both collected it, Callahan said.

The collection includes dozens of large whale teeth depicting vivid whaling scenes and a four-foot skeletal jaw from a giant sperm whale looming overhead.

Brought into the public eye by President Kennedy's affection for scrimshaw, the art of carving or engraving whale bones has been practiced since revolutionary times.

A common medium for scrimshaw was sperm whale teeth, which were polished to a high gloss, engraved with a whale-hunting or other dramatic scene and sometimes inked to bring out tiny details.

The pieces in the Crater Rock collection, valued at between &

36;65,000 and &

36;100,000 by various estimates, depicts the history of America from the eyes of the whalers-turned-scrimshanders.

Created during long winters, or as a way to pass the time between jobs, the collection boasts portraits, historic symbolism and events dating back to the 1700s and 1800s.

Commodore Thomas McDonough's Victory at Lake Champlain in 1814 is etched into one tooth, while the Salem Custom House (1850) is depicted on another.

A two-and-a-half-foot-tall whale bone shows a whaling scene in which a clipper ship is descending on a group of whales, ocean waves crashing around.

One small carving depicts five mice feeding on a severed salmon head, while the whale jawbone highlights the history of the USS Constitution, known as Old Ironsides, through every major sea battle.

Roxy Ann Gem and Mineral Society director Gary Youlman said he acquired the collection for the museum almost by accident during an impromptu tour offered when Holmes' widow visited the museum.

We were talking about how we acquire some of our collections, such as our recent Soumynona, which enabled our expansion, Youlman said.

And how that, many times, people will donate an estate so that everyone can enjoy the collection. — I didn't know at the time that she had a nice collection. She was asking more and more questions and she mentioned the scrimshaw.

Youlman said it was immediately obvious that the scrimshaw collection was one that could rival any other, including JFK's.

So I said to her, 'Would you consider lending the collection to the museum, it sounds fabulous.'

Upon learning the museum was non-profit, Holmes' widow agreed to donate it to Crater Rock because of Holmes' obvious roots in the Rogue Valley.

Callahan said the well-marked pieces relieved the museum of any potential concerns where scrimshaw is concerned. Today's ivory trade in the United States is limited to pre-embargo ivory, brought into the country prior to sanctions put in place on ivory.

The collection, Callahan said, is well preserved and clearly dates back more than 100 years, before the embargo.

It's a very rare incident that this would be possible here because we're not a coastal community, Callahan said.

David's wife had this in line to possibly take back to the East Coast, to the whaling and seafaring museums back in Maine and New Hampshire — so we got real lucky. Being as how it was a local man here in the valley it's great we could get his collection. — There's nothing else out there like this anywhere.

If you go

Crater Rock Museum, at 2002 Scenic Ave., is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. For more information, phone 664-6081 or see .

Crater Rock Museum curator Frank Callahan holds a whale jawbone whose scrimshaw depicts the history of the USS Constitution. Mail Tribune / Roy Musitelli - Mail Tribune Roy Musitelli