Dr. Janet West

Associate, Scott Polar Research Institute, Lensfield Road, Cambridge CB2 1ER, England.

Tel (SPRI Switchboard): +44 (0)1223 336540
Tel (Home number): +44 (0)1223 891469
e-mail:  jw129@ cam.ac.uk

Please note that I work a lot from home and it is generally better to telephone me at my home number. I prefer to receive enquiries in writing, and regret that I cannot handle urgent or detailed enquiries by e-mail.

Current research

My main work centres on scrimshaw, the art of the whaleman. I work on the history of the whaling trade, mainly in the days of sail and the hand-held harpoon, on the leisure crafts of the whalemen during this period, and on maritime arts and crafts in general. I was the first person to have undertaken a chemical analysis of the most common type of plastic used for the many forgeries which have flooded the market since the 1970s. I pioneered the use of microscopy to investigate surface characteristics of decorated sperm whale teeth and other scrimshaw materials, and the engraving techniques of different scrimshanders, to assess age and authenticity. The identification of scrimshaw materials and the origins of the motifs used is also a major interest. My long-term research, on the SPRI collection of scrimshaw and on other notable examples continues and I am preparing a publication on the SPRI scrimshaw.


After reading natural sciences at Newnham College, Cambridge, followed by a Ph.D. and some years of post-doctoral research in plant biochemistry, I reverted to my early interest in ships and the sea; marine painting; ship models and all types of sailors' decorative work, particularly scrimshaw. As the latter subject was much neglected, with few publications, I began research and was soon aware of examples of fake scrimshaw in Britain, especially moulded polymer forgeries in the form of whale teeth, walrus tusks, etc.

I wrote some of the first publications on fake scrimshaw, and have continued to publish articles on scrimshaw and related topics in a variety of journals. These included a survey of the major scrimshaw collections in Australia - the first publication on the subject outside the USA. The book: "Scrimshaw: The Art of the Whaler", is illustrated mainly from the collection at the Hull Maritime Museum, the largest scrimshaw collection in Europe. It was written with Arthur G. Credland (Keeper, Hull Maritime Museum) and published by Hutton Press, Beverley, 1995. (now out of print alas).

I have analysed the motifs and engraving techniques used by the famous Nantucket artist Frederick Myrick on 31 sperm whale teeth. It was a surprise to discover that his technique changed drastically between 1828 and 1829, when he dated his work. Myrick's scrimshaw work fetches exceptionally high prices at auction. This research was published in 1999. It was the major contribution to Kendall Whaling Museum Monograph No. 14, and also contributed to No. 13. A detailed analysis of the rig and rigging of the four whaling vessels that Myrick portrayed on his work was published in The American Neptune, Vol 60, No. 4. This is dated Fall 2000, but did not appear until 2002. I collaborated with my husband, Dr. Martin H. Evans, on "Maritime Museums: a guide to the collections and museum ships in Britain and Ireland", published by Chatham, London, 1995. A frequently updated version is accessible on the Internet at:


I am an Emeritus Fellow of Wolfson College, University of Cambridge, and was Advisory Curator of Scrimshaw at the Kendall Whaling Museum, in Sharon, Massachussetts, USA, from 1988 to 2000.

Janet West, 22nd June 2004.

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