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Cribbage board

Iñupiaq cribbage board
ca. 1900
Nome, Alaska
Walrus ivory tusk
57 x 4 x 2.5 cm
Collected by J. E. Standley

The Inupiaq Eskimo people of Alaska have been engraving realistic images on walrus ivory for a thousand years, most of that time on bow drills made for their own use. But when gold was discovered on the beaches of Nome in 1898 and the town was engulfed by gold seekers—40,000 by 1900—a market developed for Alaskan souvenirs. Native artists quickly adapted their traditional skills to meet the demand. Cribbage boards made from walrus tusks and engraved with images of animals, hunters, and other scenes of everyday life became extremely popular and were eagerly purchased as mementos of an Arctic adventure.

This cribbage board is exquisitely engraved with images of two species of seals basking on ice floes, a harpoon, and a tiny image of what appears to be a Norton Sound style kayak. The details of each scene suggest an artist thoroughly familiar with his surroundings and able to render them with great accuracy. The flowering plant, on the other hand, may be a flight of fancy. This cribbage board was spotted by George Heye in around 1915 at J. E. Standley’s Ye Olde Curiosity Shop in Seattle—a local landmark still in business on the waterfront at Pioneer Square.

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