Friday, July 6, 2007

Sexy Clothes and Dim Lights ca. 1900

A glimpse into whaling history

In the early years of the fishery, bowheads -- which can reach 65 feet in length and weigh more than 100 tons -- were doubly valuable to whalemen. The whales' exceptionally thick layer of blubber produced enormous quantities of oil used for lighting and lubrication; and the pliable baleen in their mouths, which whalemen called whalebone, put the hoop in hooped skirts and gave form to stomach-tightening corsets.

In 1870 baleen fetched 85 cents per pound; a decade later it had risen to $2. Then in 1891 it shot up to $5.38 per pound, and in 1904 it reached an all-time high of $5.80. As The New York Times reported in 1889, baleen was "becoming so rare and costly that the old whalemen are being drawn away from their firesides once more in the hope of making big money quickly in taking it. A quantity of bone that would not fill an ox-cart was sold last week for $1,800."

From the Boston Globe