"The Ambergris King"
1851: David and his brother George were orphaned by the death in
Provincetown of their mother, Eliza, and the loss at sea of their
1860 US census, Provincetown:
David C Stull was in the household of David & Almira Conwell. He
was 16, a student, born Mass.
His brother, George P Stull, was also a household member. He was 11, in
Provincetown Advocate, 18 Nov 1874
"A novel find was made Monday by Joe King Lema at the shore near
Railroad pier. It was a real white whale, the second of the species, it
is believed, ever captured so far south of the cruising grounds.
David C. Stull purchased the whale immediately after the capture and
will send it to Boston."
[PA archives are incompletely available online from 1874-1917, as of
Barnstable Patriot, 9 Jul 1878
"District Court of the United States, District of Massachusetts, In
Upon a petition presented to the court by David C. Stull of
Provincetown, praying that he may be decreed to have a full discharge
from all his debts provable under the Bankrupt Act: it is ordered that
a hearing be had upon the same on the twenty-third day of July, A.D.
1878, before the court in Boston in said District, at 10 o'clock, A.M.,
and that all persons in interest may appear at said time and place, and
show cause, if any they have, why the prayer of the said petition
should not be granted.
Edward Dexter, Clerk of said Court."
Barnstable Patriot, 8 May 1883
"Boston parties are soon to erect a fish weir at the Herring Cove,
Provincetown. D.C. Stull has charge of the constructing and working of
Barnstable Patriot, 8 Apr 1884
"The Herring Cove Weir Company of Provincetown, under the management of
D.C. Stull, have chartered the schooner Morning Star, of Boston for a
tender to their weirs this summer, and also have purchased a small flat
bottom steamer which will be rigged into a sail vessel for the same
Barnstable Patriot, 27 May 1884
"David C. Stull was before Trial Justice Foster at Provincetown for
maintaining a floating fish trap and fined $300; also $10 for every day
it has been down and $10 for every day is is kept down hereafter. He
Barnstable Patriot, 2 Apr 1900
Cases for Trial by Jury
David C. Stull vs. Thomas C. Day, admr. Morse & Friedman for plff;
T.C. Day, R.A. Hopkins for deft."
[9 Apr 1900 - case continued
8 Oct 1900 - case in court again]
15 Oct 1900
"In the jury case of David C. Stull vs. Thomas C. Day, adminsistrator
of the estate of Adam Macool, late of Provincetown, the plaintiff
claimed that the defendent, who was an intimate friend and a widower,
without any near relatives, made a present to him of about $8,000 worth
of sperm oil, stored at New Bedford, and sues the defendant for the
conversion of the same. The defense was a general denial. The jury
returned a verdict for defenant. Godfrey Morse & Friedman of Boston
and H.H. Baker of Hyannis for the plaintiff. H.M. Knowlton, T.C. Day
and R.A. Hopkins for the defendant."
Hyannis Patriot, 30 Aug 1909
"Capt. and Mrs. Robert M. Lavender, Somerville, and Miss Louisa P.
Lavender, Baltimore, are guests of Mr. and Mrs. David C. Stull."
Sandwich Observer, 26 Sep 1911
David C. Stull, admr. estate James V. Bowley of Provincetown
Barnstable Patriot, 8 Jul 1912
"Mr. and Mrs. Charles Rathgan, New York, are guests of Mr. and Mrs.
David C. Stull."
Barnstable Patriot, 2 Dec 1912
"A school of blackfish came ashore recently on the flats of Brewster.
The heads were sold to David. C. Stull of Provincetown, the expert
watch oil manufacturer."
Barnstable Patriot, 17 Mar 1913
"Mr. David C. Stull visited Boston and Lunenberg the past week."
Hyannis Patriot, 14 Sep 1914
"Blackfish to the number of 175 were stranded at South Wellfleet Monday
night. They were bought by David C. Stull of Provincetown."
Barnstable Patriot, 5 Oct 1914
"A large school of blackfish was recently stranded on Brewster flats.
Head oil refiner Stull of Provincetown was quickly on the scene."
Barnstable Ptriot, 20 Dec 195
"David C. Stull has sent to Boston the underjaw of a sperm whale, with
all teeth in place, the perforated shoulder blade of a finback whale, a
specimen (mounted) of a white whale, and harpoons and lances used in
the whaling industry, the lot to be displayed in one of the show indows
of the Filene business house. Mr. Stull and Enos. S. Burch are to be in
charge of the exhibit."
Provincetown Advocate, 25 Jan 1917
"Still another batch of unnamable stuff of greasy substance, supposed
by the sender to be ambergris, was received last week by Mr. David C.
Stull. The sample came from the Grand Caymans, the sender being the man
who purchsed fishing schooner Dido at this port a few years ago."
Provincetown Advocate, 1 Feb 1917
"Again the graceful and fortunate whaling brigantine Viola is the
subject of excited comment in all whaling and fishing circles. A record
breaker, as money maker while on her maiden voyage, a 'lucky ship' on
each intervening cruise, she now breaks the silence that had lasted
since her sailing from New Bedford September 25, 1916, with the most
cheering message sent out from her side during all her career. Writing
somewhere off Cape Frio, December 19th, last, the commander of the
Viola, Capt. Joseph F. Lewis, stated that the brig had taken 450
barrels sperm oil and 150 pounds of ambergris. The letter was brought
to land by a Norwegian steamer which fell in with the Viola at sea.
On her first voyage the Viola not only took a remarkably large lot of
oil, but, as partner with whaling bark Bertha, a lump of first quality
ambergris. That lot of the much prized substance weighed 165 pounds
when first lande in the States, losing a few pounds by drying before
the sale was made, and profits were divided fifty-fifty between the
brig and the bark's owners.
In this instance, we believe, th Viola is the sole possessor of a lot
weighing 150 pounds, the price of which will be governed largely by the
quality. If the stuff is of first chop grade, as is hoped by all,
voyage profits exceeding even those of the record breaking first cruise
will have been amassed in the amazingly short time of three months. In
any event, bully for the Viola!
Provincetown Advocate, 1 Feb 1917
"Mr. David C. Stull has been favored with an order for watch oil by the
agent of a Japanese concern, or the Japanese government. In 1916 this
company, or government, representative placed with Mr. Stull an
order for one thousand bottles of his oil. That the first lot met with
the approval of the buyer is evident, the second order being for twice
the quantity of the first, of two thousand bottles. Bottles, with
patent stoppers of glass for the same, have arrived at the Stull
factory and work of filling same will be done soon."
Provincetown Advocate, 1 Mar 1917
"Mr. David C. Stull is at Staunton, West Virginia, this week and will
visit before returning home points in Missouri, Texas and Louisiana.
His homing journey will include a steamer passage from New Orleans to
New York City."
Provincetown Advocate, 15 Mar 1917
"Messrs. David C. Stull and Angus McIntyre witnessed the inaugural at
Provincetown Advocate, 29 Mar 1917
"The Daily Democrat, Greenville, Miss., said Saturday, March 17th:
'Mr. David C. Stull of Provincetown, Mass. arrived here last evening,
to be the guest for a few days of Judge and Mrs. Percy Bell. Mr. Stull
is an interesting talker and Judge and Mrs. Bell and their many friends
here are enjoying his visit.' "
Provincetown Advocate, 12 Apr 1917
"Mr. David C. Stull returned Friday from a six weeks tour of the South.
He visited points in both Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi,
Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, and Missouri, found the peoples of the
several commonwealths eminently genial and was much impressed by the
plainly visible signs of prosperity that were everywhere apparent."
Provincetown Advocate, 10 May 1917
"Mr. David C. Stull visited New Bedford last week and inspected the
newly arrived lot of ambergris taken by whaling brig Viola on her
present voyage. The lot weighs 121 pounds and is of excellent quality.
Congratulations to owners and crew!"
Provincetown Advocate, 24 May 1917
"Mr David C Stull is at Philadelphia, where a portion of his large
collection of marine curios had preceded him for a stay of about one
week. The Stull exhibit is, by the request of one of the city's
business firms, on view at that firm's business place. Blue sharks and
sharks of other species comprise the bulk of the exhibit."Provincetown
Advocate, 11 Jul 1918
"Mr. David C. Stull and Mr. Mangus Peterson went Sunday to Nantucket
and the scene of the blackfish stranding of last week."
Provincetown Advocate, 14 Jun 1917
"Mr. David C. Stull arrived Monday from his Virginia trip. He came
accompanied by his grandson Angus McIntyre, student at a military
institution, who is to pass the summer-long vacation here."
Provincetown Advocate, 28 Jun 1917
"Samples of leather made from the skins of sharks, dogfish and other
sea denizens may be seen at the office of David C. Stull, oil refiner."
Provincetown Advocate, 12 Jul 1917
"Mr. David C. Stull has purchased and received the 19 ounce lump of
ambergris brought in by whaling schooner A.M. Nicholson. The lump is of
a golden brown hue, ball shaped, and wellnigh odorless."
Provincetown Advocate, 30 Aug 1917
"Mr. David C. Stull is to ship a part of his sea curio collection, for
display in the shop window of the big Boston firm: Filene &
Company, which concern is to help secure contributions for the
Fishermen's Dependent's [sic] Fund."
Provincetown Advocate, 20 Sep 1917
"A 27-foot-long whale was caught in Yarmouth fish weir a few days ago.
For two or three days the creature remained alive, defying the attempts
of the fishermen to cause its death with bullets fird from a rifle.
Then Captain Charles A. Foster showed the men how to do the trick and
one stab of the lance put the mammal out of its misery. Our townsman,
David C. Stull, bought the whale. Messrs. Burch and Veara, experienced
whalemen, went Monday to the scene and flensed the whale. The blubber
was shipped further a field, for rendering, and the pair next removed
the meat from the bones, which they disarticulated, for shipping to
this town. The bones arrived here yesterday. They are to be assembled
and the whale skeleton, mounted, will probably soon grace some city
museum as Mr. Stull is in communication with scientific bodies, lookin
to its sale."
Provincetown Advocate, 15 Nov 1917
"A force of workmen is erecting a new wooden seawall on the premises of
Mr. David C. Stull to replace the one that was ruined by the late
Provincetown Advocate, 18 Jul 1918
"Mr. David C. Stull has been in Whitman where the blubber from his
Nantucket herd of pilot whales was taken for rendering into oil.
It is true that Mr. David C. Stull secured the promise of the 90-odd
blackfish that stranded at Eastham last Saturday, but, as the town
authorities ordered that all carcasses should be buried, the deal was
declared off and the great hoard of oil-yielding blubber, worth
probably $3000 or more (if rendered into oil) went, perforce of
circumstances, to waste."
Provincetown Advocate, 5 Sep 1918
"Mr. David C. Stull went the past week to East Dennis and purchased the
small herd of blackfish that had just stranded there, saving not only
the blubber but all the meat."
Provincetown Advocate, 31 Oct 1918
"An old time occupation was revived last Sunday when a school of about
75 blackfish came in near the Bay Shore and the men of the village went
off with boats and succeeded in landing about sixty on the beach. They
were sold to David Stull of Provincetown who, with his men, began work
on them Tuesday."
Provincetown Advocate, 22 Aug 1918
"To the end that a new source of food may be made available for public
consumption, Hugh M. Smith, Commissioner, has written to Henry B.
Endicott, Federal Food Administrator, suggesting that the latter take
up with the State Authorities or with the Boards of Health the matter
of remission of the penalties imposed under the law approved May 28,
1918, prohibiting the driving of blackfish ashore on the ground that
they constitute a menace to public health and a nuisance. In this
communication Mr. Smith states that it is the opinion of the Bureau
(Fisheries) that properly conducted this industry cannot menace the
health of the communities where it is carried on, and states that it is
within his knowledge that on, or about, August 4th, 130 of these large
cetaceans were driven ashore at Nantucket, and that this school alone,
if it had been properly utilized, would have yielded not less than
250,000 pounds of meat.
Of our townsman, Mr David Stull, Commissioner Smith then wrote: "He has
been long and favorably known to this Bureau in connection with the
whale oil industry. He has been largely instumental in utilizing for
industrial purposes the considerable numbers of balckfish which from
time to time have gone ashore on the coast of Massachusetts, and
induced by this Bureau's campaign for the introduction of whale meat as
food, is now considering the use of blackfish meat for the same purpose.
The Bureau will appreciate anything that you may be able to do which
will permit Mr. Stull to carry on the operations proposed under such
safeguards as will ensure public health and the production of food.'
'The blackfish, or Pilot Whale, is a gregarious, hot-blooded,
red-blooded animal. Its meat is as red and firm as that of land-living
Like the cow on land, the female blackfish suckles her young, and, as
the meat is nutritious and palatable and the average adult yields many
hundreds of pounds of 'sea beef,' it should not be difficult to devise
means for the quick stripping and storing of vast quantities of a
valuable food that has heretofore been permitted to go to waste.' "
Hyannis Patriot, 23 Dec 1918
"Many sharks and porpoises have been taken in nets and weirs at
Provincetown recently, no less than four of the latter species being
received at Stull's oil rendering plant in one day."
Hyannis Patriot, 8 Jan 1923
"The American Magazine for January 1923 has an excellent likeness of
Editor Edwin A. Grozier of the Boston Post and an interesting sketch of
some of the experiences in the making of a great newspaper. In the same
magazine is a likeness and stories of David C. Stull of Provincetown,
widely known as the 'Ambergris King.' Most of the ambergris found
anywhere in the world passes through the hands of Mr. Stull who has a
wonderful knowledge of the valuable material."
Boston Globe, 4 Feb 1926
"David C. Stull of Provincetown dead
Provincetown, Feb 3--David C. Stull died of pneumonia this morning at
his home 742 Commerical st. He was born May 8, 1844, and had lived here
all his life.
For many years, Mr Stull had been a successful manufacturer of watch
and clock oil. He was a member of Hiram's Lodge, A.F and A.M., the
Board of Trade and the Anchor and Ark Club.
He is survived by one daughter, Mrs Mary S. MacIntyre of this town, and
two grandsons. The date of the funeral has not been decideed upon
definitely, but probably will be Friday afternoon."
Hyannis Patriot, 8 Apr 1926
"March 23d, 1926
David C. Stull, Provincetown; Mary S. MacIntyre, Provincetown, Extx.;
Provincetown Advocate, 7 Feb 1938
"'Was that grand old whaling schooner, the John R. Manta a relative of
yours?' genial, veteran Selectman John R. Manta was asked.
'Yes,' said John, 'It was named after me by my father, Joseph Manta,
and it was one of the finest boats he ever owned.'
What is left of the Manta now are memories, the man after whom the
stately vessel was named, and a book which has just been published by
Reynolds Printing of New Bredford, 'There Goes Flukes' written by
William H. Tripp, Curator of the New Bedford Whaling Museum, recounting
his adventures on the last whaling trip ever made by the Manta,
commanded by Captain Antonio J. Mandly. And this trip, too, was the
last ever made out of New Bedford, which, at one time, becasue of its
trade in oil, was on its way to rivaling the port on New York in
Provincetown plays an important part in 'There Goes Flukes.' Naturally
many of the names mentioned are those of Provincetown men and one of
the most interesting and informative chapters concerns ambergris and
David Stull, the'Ambergris King.'
Why the 'King'
'They call me the 'Ambergris King', and I'll tell you why they call me
that' Stull is quoted in answer to a question concerning some of the
famous ambergris catches. 'You see,' he goes on, 'I know all about it.
Like anything else, a man's got to be trained to ambergris.'
'See what I have here,' he said as he called the author's attention to
a ring on one of the fingers of his left hand. Set in the ring was a
large rectangular stone, known as goldstone. Much to Mr. Tripp's
surprise, Stull raised the goldstone, with a fingernail, as one would
the cover of a box, and inside the depression of the ring was a
depression filled with a black, sticky substance.
'That's ambergris' he said, 'but of a very poor quality. Some of a
small lot I bought once. It was no good because it would never dry as
it should. I keep that in my ring to show people what poor ambergris
looks like.' [incomplete transcription]
Natural History Magazine, March-April 1933, "Floating Gold; The Romance
of Ambergris," by Robert Cushman Murphy
The career of a museum naturalist is sometimes regarded as a dusty one,
but among its amenities are the unforeseen calls of interested,
curious, inquisitive, mysterious, or merely crack-brained individuals,
who, by one pretext or another, find their way into his laboratory with
something to be identified. A preliminary sifting out by the man at the
information desk usually staves off the bearer of a rock crystal from
disturbing the curator of insects, or the proud owner of a hippopotamus
tooth from barging into the department of Peruvian archaeology.
However, there is no dependable bulwark against surprises.
Now of all the things presented for the inspection of that faithful
servant of the public, the museum curator, the most romantic, and the
least likely to be true, is ambergris. I say inspection, because
identification is preconceived in the mind of the finder. His treasure,
stumbled upon along the sea beach, recognized with the sudden surmise
that dawns like knowledge from a previous incarnation, is encountered
where ambergris belongs; it looks, and feels, and smells as ambergris
should and, since it bears no resemblance to anything familiar, it
follows that riches are already within his grasp.
However, confirmation is the capstone to personal certainty. "Some
funny old cove at the Museum," the finder reasons, "will know all about
it. Moreover, such a practical thought as trying to horn in on my
profits would never enter his head. Those museum birds don't care about
money, anyway. It will be a good idea to have it settled scientifically
before I see the man who buys the stuff for Coty."
in the year 1672 an Englishman revealed the pertinent contents of
a manuscript which had been found on board a captured Dutch East
Indiaman. This document stated that
'Ambergris is not the scum or excrement of a whale, but issues out of
the root of a tree, which tree, howsoever it stands on the land,
alwaies shoots forth its roots towards the sea, seeking the warmth of
it thereby to deliver the fattest gum that comes out of it, which tree
otherwise by its copious fatness might be burnt and destroyed; wherever
that fat gum is shot into the sea, it is so tough that it is not easily
broken from the root, unless its own weight and the working of the warm
sea doth it, and so it floats on the sea.... If you plant the trees
where the stream sets to the shore, then the stream will cast it up to
Layoff hunting for ambergris, boys; all you need to find is the
It remained for the empirical Quaker whalemen of Nantucket to settle
the question beyond doubt, as related by Doctor Boylston, a surgeon of
Boston, about the end of the first quarter of the Eighteenth Century.
Reports the doctor:
"The most learned part of mankind are still at a loss about many things
even in medical use, and particularly were so in what is called
ambergris, until our fishermen of Nantucket, in New England, some three
or four years past made the discovery. Their account to me is as
follows:—cutting up a spermaceti bull-whale, they found accidently in
him about twenty pounds weight, more or less, of that drug; after
which, they and other such fishermen became very curious in searching
all such whales they killed, and it has been since found in lesser
quantities in several male whales of that kind, and in no other, and
that scarcely in one of a hundred of them."
And so the matter rests, except that female sperm whales have since
proved to share the honor with their larger mates. Encyclopedic works
of much later date than the note of Doctor Boylston still continued to
publish nonsense about a "fossil bitumen or nephtha, exuding out of the
bowels of the earth in a fluid form and distilling into the sea, where
it hardens and floats," but few have been misled. In the light of
modern knowledge, which appears to be none too exact on the subject,
ambergris is regarded as a morbid secretion of the liver or intestines
of the sperm whale. Whalemen have long agreed that it is the sick
whales that yield the prize, and the legion of books on maritime
adventure, credible and incredible, unite in stating that emaciated
whales, capable of supplying a minimum of oil, were nevertheless
greeted with a warm welcome and a ready lance by the Yankee
blubber-hunters, on the slim chance that the victim might more than
make up from his in'ards what he lacked in his skin.
Out at Provincetown, on the hooked tip of Cape Cod, my late friend
Captain D. C. Stull spent most of a long lifetime engaged in the
stimulating vocation of a purchaser and wholesaler of ambergris and of
porpoise-jaw oil. From the latter is refined the delicate lubricant for
watches and chronometers. Whenever a herd of blackfish stranded
anywhere along the northeastern coast of the United States, Captain
Stull, who walked with a limp but who covered the ground more rapidly
than most of mankind, was apt to be the first practical man on the
spot, prepared to buy the animals for cash from fishermen or townships,
and undertaking to tow all the objectionable carcasses safely out to
sea as soon as he had removed the rich blubber of "junk and jaw," these
being the only parts that yield the fine oil. In like manner, if a New
Bedford whaler reported to her owners a haul of ambergris, Captain
Stull would at once open negotiations, and would be waiting at the dock
when the ship came home. Equally ready was he to deal with possibly
lucky beachcombers of the sort mentioned at the beginning of my story,
and his experiences in receiving bits of all the worthless substances
that are buoyant in salt water were, naturally, far more diverse than
my own. Most such he treated with a chuckle, and the untrustful
reactions of persons who impugned his motives in telling them the
bitter truth about their discoveries, only added to his good-natured
merriment. After all, the chap who appears with "genuine ambergris,"
whether pre-war or not, is to be received with only slightly more
credulity than the inventor of a perpetual-motion machine. In either
case the burden of proof is squarely up to the seller.
And so although watch-oil was his staple, Captain Stull obtained and
disposed of a considerable quantity of ambergris during the course of
several decades. The marketing was his own business secret. Because of
the relatively minute amount of the extract required by all the perfume
manufacturers of the world, the ambergris exchange has its own curious
technique. Like the stock exchange, it is subject to more or less
unpredictable fluctuations. A large catch may cause a glut, with a
corresponding drop in the current price. Therefore it does not always
pay to find, or to admit ownership of, too much; you may get more for
less. While Captain Stull was ever ready to buy, he did not always
choose to sell, and how much of the strange material he may have had
stowed away in his strong-box, nobody but he was in a position to know.
Captain Stull perhaps shared a belief in the general weak-minded
honesty and total lack of worldliness accredited to professional
naturalists, for he was remarkably generous in turning over to me
liberal samples of his choicest commodity. In fact, I have driven away
in my Ford from Provincetown with my pockets stuffed with small bottles
containing a king's ransom, all to be picked over at my convenience.
Fresh ambergris, old ambergris, the best grade of gray, the poorest of
black, ambergris that was mottled like marble, ambergris that looked
like old cheese and smelt worse, ambergris that had the traditional
fragrance of ploughed earth--it was all mine to handle and section, to
examine under a microscope, and to return at my own will. My efforts
resulted more in the verification of well known facts than in making
startling new discoveries, but there was one conspicuous exception. In
a sample from a sperm whale that had been killed off the south coast of
Haiti during the year 1912, I found several bristles which were
recognizable as the cheek-whiskers of a seal! Subsequent comparison
with museum specimens showed that these belonged to the excessively
rare, if not quite extinct, West Indian seal, an animal first met with
by Columbus and long ago wiped out through most of its former range by
insatiable hunters of oil and hides. Indeed, these whiskers from a
whale's intestines constitute, so far as I have been able to ascertain,
the latest zoölogical record of this little known seal. How long
had they been encased in the waxy, preserving matrix of their strange
tomb? The answer is bound up with two other still unsolved problems,
namely how long does a whale live and how long may ambergris continue
in its alimentary tract?
Other relics of whale banquets impacted in Captain Stull's samples were
confined to the horny and indigestible beaks of squids or cuttle-fish,
and to fragments of the internal shell or pen (what the canary bird
eats) of the same creatures. Squids are ordinarily regarded as the
exclusive food of the sperm whale, and their remains were the objects
that originally gave a clue to the true source of ambergris. However,
the ferocious potentialities of an aroused sperm whale have often been
displayed to whalemen, and we now know that at least one After the bits
of squid beak had been picked out of the lots of ambergris that passed
through my hands, the residue was an ash-colored or darker substance
which softened in the heat of the palm, and melted, below the boiling
point of water, into a yellowish fluid resin. of the ocean-ranging
monsters has strayed from the prescribed diet. An animal which could
engulf a West Indian seal would have had no difficulty in taking in
After the bits of squid beak had been picked out of the lots of
ambergris that passed through my hands, the residue was an ash-colored
or darker substance which softened in the heat of the palm, and melted,
below the boiling point of water, into a yellowish fluid resin. At
higher temperatures it volatilized into white vapor. "The dry lumps
became electrified when they were rubbed slightly, so that they acted
as magnets to re-attract all the squid beak that had been separated
The French term ambre-gris (gray amber) was first applied to
distinguish the material from ambre-jaune, yellow or true amber. The
respective animal and vegetable origins of the two were discovered only
within modern times, whereas both were immemorially known as stuffs
cast up by the sea. Ambergris is an opaque, waxy, laminated solid,
having an odor suggestive of musk or benzoin. (Benzoic acid, one of its
components, also gives the tart taste to cranberries). The aroma is as
subtly pleasing to the majority of human beings as catnip is to all
feline creatures, from tabbies to tigers. Yet, strange to say, it is
decidedly offensive to a few persons, and this without regard to the
strength or purity of the solution.
"According to an obscure book entitled "The Last American Whale-Oil
Company, a history of Nye lubricants, Inc., 1844-1994", by Ed Parr,
1996, David C. Stull was in business in 1896, when his porpoise-jaw oil
was judged along with similar oils manufactured by Ezra Kelley and by
The Nye Lubricants Company. The results of this study were presented
before the Philadelphia Horological Society. According to the book,
David Stull "refined a brand of oil for watches and clocks from the
melons and jaws of toothed whales". He sold some of his oil to the Nye
The New Bedford Whaling museum has a circa 1900 postcard with the
caption "D. C. Stull, Provincetown, Mass., cutting up blackfish to
manufacture his watch and clock oil". It shows a photo of Stull on the
beach with a stranded creature. This postcard is illustrated in the
above mentioned book."
A Handy Book of Curious Information, by William Shepard Walsh,
Philadelphia & London: JB Lippincott Co., pp 30-32
Ambergris (a French word meaning gray amber), a gray wax-like
substance, believed to be the product of some disease in the sperm
whale, analogous to gall-stones. It is found as a morbid secretion in
the creature's intestines, and sometimes, after expulsion, floating on
the surface of tropical seas. Its essential characteristic is a pungent
and penetrating odor, so peculiar that art has never been able to
contrive an imitation of it, though invention has been stimulated by
the high price attendant on its scarcity. Inferior qualities bring
eight dollars an ounce; the best, which is rarely seen, is rated at
something like fifty dollars an ounce.
The largest single piece of ambergris known to whaling annals is said
to have been found by Captain James Earle, of New Bedford, Mass., in
the interior of a whale. It weighed 780 pounds, and was sold in chunks
in various markets of the world for about $100,000.
The New York Sun recently published an interview with David C. Stull,
who was known as the Ambergris King from the fact that he presided over
the headquarters of the trade in Provincetown, Mass.
Good ambergris, he said, was worth more than twice its weight in gold.
lie himself had once paid $18,000 for one lump and $30,000 for one lot.
The lump weighed 98 pounds. At this rate a single ton would be worth a
million dollars. He told a story of a Provincetown man who some thirty
years before had been out on his first trip as captain of a whaling
vessel. On his way home he stopped at one of the West India islands. A
na.tive offered liim five small lumps of a dirtylooking substance,
asserting that it was good for something, and explaining that he had
got these pieces from a dead whale which was ashore on a certain beach.
He added that there was plenty more in the carcass.
Did the captain-hoist all sail and get to that dead whale as fast as
the winds of providence would permit? Not a bit of it. lie had been
sent out after sperm oil and he'd stick to his job. So he gave the
native a pair of blue overalls and a jumper for the five dirty lumps
and went on his way.
After making port he showed the five lumps to Mr. Stull. When the
latter gave him $700 for them he almost had a fit. Still that shock was
nothing to what he got a little later, for he learned that another
captain had heard of the dead whale, had got what ambergris still
remained in the carcass, and had sold it in New York for $30,000. It
was estimated that this whale must have contained at least $50,000
worth of ambergris. "But the whalers of to-day," concluded Mr. Stull,
"are a more canny lot. In fact they have gone to the other extreme.
They not only open up a captured whale the very first thing to look for
ambergris, but they pick up from the flotsam of the sea all sorts of
possible and impossible stuff under the fond delusion that they are
taking a fortune aboard."
Stull is mentioned in Cape Cod Pilot, chapter 11.
by Jeremiah Digges (Josef Berger), American Guide Series, published by
Modern Pilgrim Press, Provincetown, MA, 1937. This was a work
underwritten by the Federal Writers Project, Works Project
Administration (WPA) for the State of Massachusetts.