COLLECTING Scale Ship Models

By Bloom, Jim | Sea Classics, August 2011 | Go to article overview

COLLECTING Scale Ship Models


Bloom, Jim, Sea Classics


A professional modeler reveals the secrets of how to amass a valuable collection of ship models / Part One

Regular readers of Sea Classics most likely have visited maritime museums nd therefore appreciate how the numerous precisely executed ship models on display enhance one's understanding of Naval history. You may even be a ship model builder, or collector. Tve frequently made use of pictures of ship models and miniature nautical dioramas to illustrate my historical articles on ships and seafaring. They usually provide a clearer image of the actual ship than do hasty, blurry action photographs of the vessels or paintings and woodcuts by landlubberly artists who distort the proportions and fudge the details. It's particularly true of depictions of ships before the advent of photography in the 1830s. Further, the model allows one to examine the "full hull" perspective - often lacking in illustrations of ships at sea - as well as to examine the ship from a variety of angles.

My use of illustrations employing lilliputian facsimiles reflects my fascination with building and collecting ship models. It also relates to how I first became interested in taking up maritime history and current military and Naval affairs. My connection with ship models (see sidebar) may interest those readers with a similar inclination. It was my early involvement with ship modeling that eventually led to my second career as a maritime historian.

As the following text and photos will show, ship models have been an integral part of our culture for thousands of years. While intuitive logic or statistics may demonstrate that model aircraft, cars, or tanks are more popular subjects for hobbyists, there is a certain majestic, eternal quality in the model of a proud galleon, clipper, ship of the line, heavy cruiser, destroyer, PT boat, pleasure yacht, or even the lowly tramp steamer. Because it is difficult to display massive full-sized ships in a museum setting, their diminutive replicas are also a vital element in educating the general public about its maritime heritage. The history-model connection can be demonstrated by the utility of models, be they scratch-built, kit-built, or "off the shelf fully assembled models, to eminent authors and public figures in the Naval historical field.

SOME NOTABLE MARITIME AUTHORS AND SCALE MODELING

It is no coincidence that some of the most respected Naval historians are also avid builders or collectors of model ships. One notable example is Roger Charles Anderson whose nautical articles and books, spanning the years 1905-1955, demonstrate the synergy between the model and historical exposition. His most famous book expressly for the model shipwright is The Bagging of Ships in the Days of the Spritsail and Topsail 16001 720 and for the collector or connoisseur, his expertly annotated Catalog of Ship Models in the National Maritime Museum. Anderson was himself a builder of ship models and he used models that he built or purchased to illustrate some of his most erudite and esteemed books on Naval history, notably Oared Fighting Ships, Naval Wars in the Levant, 1559-1853, and JVa val Wars in the Baltic, 1522-1850.

Howard I. Chapelle, the renowned authority on American sailing ships and boats, marine architect and historian, and long-time curator of the Smithsonian Institution's National Watercraft Collection, was an avid model builder and collector. He frequently contributed to ship modeling journals and drafted ships plans scaled down to the standard museum model sizes. He supervised the rommissioning, building, and collecting of the superb assemblage of ship models on display at the American Museum of History and Technology in Washington, DC. While at the Museum, he also directed the planning and construction of hundreds of ship models for the Hall of Merchant Shipping. Chapelle retired in 1971, beoeming Historian Emeritus in the Museum. A prolific writer, he authored a number of books on maritime history and marine architecture in addition to his ship modeling essays.

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