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The History of Model Ships Explained

Oct 29, 2007
Contemporary models of old-time ships are nowadays very scarce and precious things; most of them have found permanent homes in the great museums of the world, others in the collections of wealthy connoisseurs. Those that come into the market are keenly sought for and when in perfect condition command very high prices. There are, on the other hand, a number of quasi-ancient models consisting in part of original work, with modern additions.

Roughly speaking, the world's knowledge of ships - and hence the possibilities of accurate ship modeling - is fairly complete for a period of about 2000 years B.C. Dr. J. Sottas of Paris has spent much time in the study of early ships, and with his own hands has made some beautiful models to express the present state of knowledge of the subject represented by a Roman ship of the type described in the Holy Bible and elsewhere.

It was in such a ship that the epoch-making voyage was made by St. Paul on his journey to Rome. Much could be written about these old ships, particularly the voyages of the Phoenicians who opened up trade with England and the East in dim, almost forgotten past days. Some actual Viking ships are in existence, dating about 900 AD., but for the next seven hundred years there is a great scarcity of information.

A rigged model of a Flemish Carrack in the Science Museum, South Kensington, London, represents a ship of the largest class known in Flanders about 1450. With the exception of the longboat and the deck arrangements which are based on other contemporary sources, every detail of the model is copied from a contemporary print by the Flemish master "W. A.".

The print, which bears evidence of being a portrait of some ex voto church model, and is thus an excellent guide to the rig of the period, is so completely and carefully executed as to leave little or nothing of the original unrecorded, the perspective alone being at fault.

A model of an English man-of-war, lent by Freke Field, Esq., exhibited in the Science Museum, London, represents an English galleon of the Elizabethan period, a type of warship in use at the time of the Spanish Armada. She carried 20 pieces of ordnance on the main deck and was pierced for 6 small guns on the upper deck. Many lighter guns would be mounted on the bulwarks.

Interesting details worthy of notice include two cressets or hollow vessels for carrying lights fitted on brackets at the stern; the flames were obtained from ropes smeared with pitch or resin. The whip staff, by which vessels of this period were steered, consists of a pivoted handle, the lower end of which engages with the end of the tiller while the upper end is moved from side to side by the helmsman, who was protected by a raised structure.

National expansion, the development of world resources, the intermingling of peoples and the civilization of the human race is largely due to the development of ships and shipping. In prosperous times ships were improved and their design perfected; stagnant periods of the world's history - for instance, the dark ages in Britain, following the fall of the Roman Empire - were marked by a decline in shipbuilding and a stagnation of design.

Despite the ups and downs of the world's history the ships have improved from age to age each with its own characteristic style, crude though it might be compared to modern achievements.

In their unwieldy craft the old-time mariners braved wild uncharted seas; survived untold hardships although ill fed, racked with scurvy and other loathsome disease; attacked by savages, harassed by pirates; unaided by charts and lighthouses, yet they endured, and carried the flag to the uttermost parts of the earth. The very existence of the British Empire is due in no small measure to the intrepid navigators of the Middle Ages, and its subsequent development has been and still is indissolubly bound up with the mariners of England.

Some of this magnificent history has been preserved by means of accurate ship models.
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