59 School Street, Box 1310, Edgartown MA 02539 - 508.627.4441
Martha's Vineyard Museum MV Museum



Attributed to Captain Richard G. Luce

Probably made at sea

Mahogany, rosewood, exotic woods, mother-of-pearl, tortoise shell, ivory, whalebone.

Gift of Mrs. Howard S. Hart

Whalers of all ranks commonly passed the time on long voyages by crafting things from leftover bits of whalebone. The more resourceful or wealthy could include exotic materials as well. Often these objects were intended as presents for sweethearts, wives, and children.

It is easy to picture Captain Richard Luce in his cabin aboard ship, dozens of small pieces of carved shell arrayed on the table in front of him, thin pieces of wood trimmed into leaves and flower petals, triangles and half-moons, birds and horses, all ready to be fitted into the veneer of this box.

Captain Luce presented this box to his daughter, Abbie Bradford Luce, upon returning from one of his many long voyages. It is clear that the box was meant only for her because her initials are set into a tortoise-shell plaque on the top.

The Luces—Richard and his wife, Virginia, and their children—lived on William Street in Vineyard Haven, though for twenty-seven years he spent only a few months at a time there between his voyages. Built in 1833 his home was the first and finest Greek Revival–style house in a neighborhood that came to be known for its impressive residences.