PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTION
The following collection remarkable for the quantity and quality of bone ship models, is enhanced by a number of carved wood ships' figureheads and naive dioramas. Before the age of iron clad ships (Brunel's 'Great Britain' of 1845), the admiralty employed large numbers of skilled craftsman in naval dockyards, not only adept at joining timbers but also competent at carving transom boards and figureheads. Being craftsmen as opposed to artists, these figureheads possess the charm of Folk Art.
During the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (1793-1815), large numbers of French prisoners were housed in open prisons throughout Britain. Their daily food ration included half a pound of beef or mutton on the bone. Subsequently, the bone became a readily available source of raw material from which a variety of objects were crafted. Other materials were also used, including wood, horn, brass, silk, straw and glass. Typically, the models were not made to scale as accurate scale plans were not available and tools were limited. To realize a good price at market, the models were often named after famous ships of the time, whilst some models included spring-loaded guns operated by cords.
The ship dioramas in this collection would have been built and painted by seamen who acquired a certain skill in carpentry and joinery on long voyages. Many would have been made by retired seamen and sold in ports to a ship's captain as a souvenir of the vessel that he commanded.