Item WC7 - Framed Nye Oil Co. Advertising Cut from 1888.

The Wm. F. Nye Oil Company was New Bedford's leading maker of fine oil products in the 19th Century, and continues in business today. Although Nye's lubrication products today are completely synthetic, the company's business was built upon its production of fine natural oils, particularly Sperm Whale oil. This oil was a favorite of machinists, clock repairers, gunsmiths, and others who required a fine lubricant the viscosity of which was stable over a wide range of temperature—this was the advantage of Sperm Whale oil. By the 1880 the scarcity of Sperm whales caused Nye to look elsewhere for sources of quality oil. A source was found in the porpoises and the small whales known as Pilot Whales. These animals had a superior oil that could be extracted from the mandibular bones of the lower jaw, and the ultrasound focusing tissues of the head (melon). The lower jaw has a channel filled fine oil that is used to transmit received echoes bouncing off targets in the animal's path back to the inner ear (like a set of oily middle ear ossicles). Whalers in pursuit of Sperm on the high seas had often “lowered” their boats for pilot whales (also known as “blackfish), when the larger whales were scarce. These blackfish only produced few barrels of oil apiece, but the quality of the “head oil” was high and could command a good price.

But in southern New England (particularly on certain beaches on Cape Cod), herds of Pilot Whales occasionally run aground and “strand” in large numbers. Today these events still occur (the reasons are not completely clear), and this stirs up a lot of activity to come to the aid of the stranded cetaceans, and attempt to return them to the water. Through the late 1800s, and well into the 20th century, however, the stranded animals were often killed, decapitated, and the heads rushed to the Nye Company in New Bedford for processing into “porpoise jaw oil” (proclaimed on the oil bottle labels). Indeed, these strandings were so profitable for Cape Cod fisherman, that as late as the 1940s, fishermen, in their boats, sometimes actively herded groups of Pilot whales toward beaches and forced them to strand.

So the picture in this advertisement is depicting a “Stranding” of Pilot whales (natural or forced, we can't say), and suggests that this is the method of obtaining Nye's “watch, clock & chronometer oils.” While we don't condone this method of whaling, we believe in full disclosure! The cut is Fine.

          Price - $35.00

Price - To order, email

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