CharlieZardoz

Colors for American ships circa 1815-1830

Hi all! I started this topic in my build log but feel I'm not that much closer to understanding the answer to my query than before. I think the problem is that period 1815-1830 was something of a transition regarding how the navy colored their ships and I'm trying to determine the point and processes of the transition. We all know that by the 1840's ships in the American Navy were black with the characteristic white strip with white bulwarks while during the first 15 years of the century 1800-1815 ships had the black sides with a yellowish or orche stripe that became more narrow by the war of 1812 and bulwarks were either green or red. Red was characteristic of the British as was yellow stripes, however some of my confusion I think stems from models I've seen which don't exactly follow this approach. So question is, are the models wrong? is my information? Let's discuss! :)

 

This of course all boils down to understanding what paints, stains whatever to use for my 1818 revenue cutters, but look at that image of Roger B Taney, which has a yellowish or ochre stripe and is from 1833. Is that how she should look? She also has natural wood cap rails and natural wood sides with a white bottom, natural wood masts with black mast tops. Is this color scheme completely inappropriate for an 1833 ship? Did the coast guard follow a different scheme than the American navy and if it did I doubt it was that different. From my research it sounds like black, white and green were the main paints of this time period overall.

 

Images are of Taney, but also a color scheme for the cutter with black wale, a white strip which I'm thinking of doing in holly, and then natural wood hull with copper plates below it. The reasoning for the natural wood hull is first that it copies Taney, second the image of Louisiana clearly shows planking from below the wale but not above the wale and while that image has no color, it leads me to suspect the artist was suggesting that the hull was painted above the wale while the rest was left natural via the diagram I posted. The masts would then be wood with white mast tops and the cap rails could be painted or left natural wood. Overall I am liking this scheme most but I'm happy to be told it isn't historically accurate. I mean why would the lower part of the hull below the wale be left unpainted wouldn't that get the most exposure to sea water?? Thoughts?

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The second option is similar to Joe Lane, black sides with natural upper potion, cap rails etc. This also follows the method Bluejacket colored the ship, so all the wales and hull are the same color in the end. Masts are wood with white caps just as before and the inner bulwarks white as before. But this Joe Lane model has a yellow stripe, which looks nice but is this historically accurate? I realize there is no definitive answer but this convo is to whittle down what was and what wasn't likely and why. Also to help me understand the motivations of the modelers as well. What I don't like about this one is that there is nothing to distinguish the wale from the rest of the hull it would all be black but maybe that's how it should be?  ;)

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Then the third option which would be an all black hull with a natural wood or lightly colored wale with maybe a holly strip above it and black cap railing. The masts could be wood but also painted white in this scenario and the mast tops are black. This would make her look similar to early 19th century ships rather than mid Century and looks nice but I'm wondering if this is a logical color scheme for an 1818 era ship? I find it unlikely a ship this small would have their main masts painted white, however a lot of the kits like Mamoli, Corel and Krick use this as a color scheme so it makes sense we acknowledge it. But it begs the question at what point did the black mast tops go out of fashion?

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Last food for thought it this model I showed above in particular shows a ribbon style strip (here is another picture) by the cap rail and above the rail. I'd love to do that on my model but would such a ship have a strip with moulding as such? I pointed it out so you can see what I mean :)

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Charlie, I think the answer must be 'yes'.  Unless you can find a Navy reg., or Revenue Service, I suspect anything could be correct.  It might actually be a benefit to the Revenue Service if there was no standard color scheme, better for hiding from the smugglers, eh?

White port stripes were coming in for Navy, but by the time there are lots of photos, I think had become standardized, so not much good for your question.

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Well lets cross of the list what isn't possible at least. For example red wasn't a likely color used on American ships in the 1820's unless maybe a reddish wood used for a strip like a mahogany. Black is a definite but is it logical to leave wood exposed in certain areas and not other areas? My instinct tells me some wood color close to the sheer and cap rail makes sense as that was the area least exposed to the elements. There are the mast tops sometimes black sometimes white I know they were black earlier and white later so what era does 1820 cover? Copper has been confirmed via historical records, as has the colors black, white and green via inventory rosters, so we know this. But yes there is a level of imagination in this too and I want to have fun when picking the colors. However you have models Roger B Taney and Joe Lane (later revenue cutters) located above with yellow and ochre colorings (or is that tallow?) and I've been informed by a few people that yellow is more common on British ships, so again I'm mainly trying to determine what could be and what couldn't be. ;)

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Anyone that has tried to maintain brightwork exposed to sunlight on a wooden boat knows that it is a constant struggle, even with the modern synthetic UV inhibited resins. These vessels were working craft possibly subjected to rough usage. I therefore see little reason for varnished rails and inboard works..I would lean towards cheap subdued earth tone pigments. Black (lampblack), yellow ochre, dark brown (simulating a tarred finish), and why not a red oxide (barn) red- a cheap common pigment. In these years the US was still a developing country with little money to spend on non-utilitarian decoration.

 

 

Roger

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'Bare wood' might be tarred, just not very many coats.  The paint might have a lot of the same ingredients, just pigment instead of pine tar.  I did a test of pine tar on some oak, and it came out that nice warm honey color.  More coats would have darkened it, no doubt.

You're right, barn red was available and cheap, just apparently not very popular or stylish for ships' hulls'.

Yellow ochre with white can be fairly bright and still cheap.

Blue-green using Prussian Blue pigment was an artificial pigment and fairly cheap.  With white added it would be on the sky blue/ robin's egg blue side of things.  Add some yellow ochre and you get a green, though somewhat dull to modern eyes.

We still haven't answered Charlie's question, and I suspect there is no firm answer, unless you have a painting or other description for a particular vessel.

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Yes thats the correct term natural wood but tarred. Look at the model below which reminds me of such a look. Again not sure about the black bowsprit (or the red insides) but looks great either way. I think we are having two discussions. One is the nature of pigment and the other is placement. When I get in ill scan the pigment sheet from "ship modelers shop notes II" which is a great resource for this. And yes colors should be cheap and what was available partly since these were little ships in a little navy and part due to the materials. Red would probably utilize an iron oxidized rust, yellow earth, green copper and so on.

 

The other convo is about preference and placement and thats where it gets tricky. Some colors were preferred by certain navys not sure if it was availability or to distinguish ships (yellow vs white etc). But then there is a matter of logic for example it makes sense that the upper works of these ships might have used natural tarred wood since the sheer and bulwarks would have been worn down by use and modified more regularly expecially if they were built up and cannon ports added (note above model). While towards the waterline is it logical to assume that wood planks would have been painted? If the wale wasnt painted why paint around it? The cap rail, would it have been painted or left tarred or natural even? So yeah stuff like this im trying to think logically what was the most utilitarian thing to do on a small ship whose need for decoration was negligible other than maybe to distinguish from other ships in the local fleet. A greenish strip for one, a reddish for another and so forth. :)

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The Navy in later years certainly used color stripes to identify different similar vessels. During the Civil War, the stacks of river gunboats and the Passaic Class monitors were painted with unique colored stripes.

 

Roger

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For the period under consideration (1815-1830) and the sea service being discussed (the Revenue Marine - not the US Navy) the archival records are much more dispersed. The Revenue Service either purchased existing or issued contracts for new construction. They also contracted for maintenance. Some of theese records may be available in the NARA website, but probably just index entries.

 

Another source may be some of the ships logs and port records (including those of the Customs Collector, who had a measure of control over assigned boats). Look for copies of invoices and supply purchases - that was one tool used in redefining the paint scheme on HMS Victory.

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That is quite correct and here are a few notes that were given to me by Dave of Lumbreyard. While I can't read the chicken scratch, somewhere I can see the mention of copper plating and paints black, white and green. Application isn't mentioned but the color choices are documented here in these order contracts.

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In his book The Coast Guard Under Sail, author Irving H. King writes (page 67) that c1819 Treasury Secretary Dallis wanted the 51 Ton revenue cutters "coppered to the bends."

 

Roger

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Charlie, the 1830s are a stylistic transition period for ships, and a number of paint schemes are in use, with a trend towards abstraction, away from the 18th century norms.  Its not a case of "anything goes" but rather a series of identifiable variations within a predominant style popular in any given time.    

 

Generally, the whole of the external hull is painted, and upper rails are picked out in a variety of colors, such as white, cream, yellow or green.  Inside the hull, green, ochre and cream are common on bulwarks and fittings, green especially.  There is little to no varnished or oiled woodwork on the external hull of a ship at this time.   

 

Some ships still used a white band, sometimes with black "gunports," although not so much on smaller vessels.  (The white band is a very early 19th c abstraction of the late 18th c yellow ochre band.  Merchant sailing ships used it as late as the steel hull era).  

 

The Peabody Museum has an extensive online collection of 18th and 19th c American maritime art.   Focus on ships from the 1820s and 1830s, which should give you the best sense of an 1833 style.   Nothing is better than looking at original examples and marking down specific details and commonalities.  You will be surprised how often they vary from common impressions.  

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That's good to know and I need to head there at some point thank you. If we are talking the 1830's then that's the Roger B Taney the "Morris" class cutters which replaced the Doughty cutters. For that one I'd say the model probably shouldn't have left any bare wood I've seen an Alexander Hamilton with black and white striping only also the contemporary image of Gallatin. That said the Doughty revenue cutters are from 1815-1825 so that's even earlier than the Taney/Morris class, also the ship looks essentially like a mini Baltimore Clipper. So I'm not sure if things changed much from 1818 to 1833 but I assume it did and that the revenue service might have looked more rugged/utilitarian and more "18th century looking" during the time of the Doughty cutters than it did 20 years after when the more regimented black and white became the standard. I am in the process of building a mock deck set up where I will test out certain patterns and see what looks right and what looks aesthetically pleasing.

 

 

The vast majority of models I see have black sides (some with wood or tarred wood railings, caps etc), white or tallow striping (occasionally greenish, red rust or bluish embellishments), green or white insides and bulwarks (mostly white for revenue cutters), wood or white masts (though mostly white) and black or white mast tops (though mostly black. I'm not sure at what point mast tops became white but I'm thinking by the 1840's and onward? Same is true for white masts I seem to feel that became standard post 1840's.

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The Peabody museum has a c 1813 painting of the privateer Rambler off the Pearl River.  Its painted black with the two upper rails picked out in white lines.  The French bark Fanny of 1832 was also an overall black and had a single white line, very similar to the later photograph of the Gallatin.  

 

The other paintings there from the 1813-1837 period show various ships - frigates, brigs, packets and so forth - painted black with a broad band in white or ochre, and the rails above picked out in its opposite.  So an ochre band with a white rail (the brig Olida, of Salem, in 1827) or a white band with an ochre rail (the packet Birmingham in 1830).  A few of them have ochre bands that are more reddish or orangish.  

 

A big fashion in the 19th century was to run the white or ochre bands and rails forward from the hull onto the head, painted in a straight line regardless of the physical structure.   A pretty ugly style, but very common.  Its evident in the photo of the Gallatin as well as the frigate Proserpine (1822) and more to the point, the fast privateer sloop Rambler of 1813.  If you're doing a ship of 1818 or 1833 it should be considered.  

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I believe this is the image of Rambler you mentioned, There is also an image of the revenue cutter McLaine which shows similar. The black with white, tallow or ochre lines is in keeping with the image from Chapelle's book on his depiction of a 31 ton cutter so I definitely see a pattern of black with striping broken up. Regarding the strip painted in a straight line I'm not too worried about that feature since these ships have no bow decoration. Another nice model depiction I've seen is this one of pilot vessel Achilles redubbed HMS Express by Mark Antczak via shipmodel. The Achilles is referenced in Chapelle's "Search for Speed Under Sail" plate 67. While the red bulwarks is characterized as a British feature (I'd do white or green for mine), it follows a similar color pattern to the mamoli kit listed above I could see myself doing similar with the 31 ton (using a tarred wood instead of the ochre). Would the americans use ochre in the same fashion in 1818 or was that purely a British color as well as I've heard they used the yellow while we used white?

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Btw here is another image I found which shows Louisiana with an extra top rail with cannon ports however it's another example of black with ochre.

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Any chance on these models you could give us some idea of when they were built? Any "modern" models (20th century or later) would be the end result of either research (hence useful as a secondary source) or conjecture (hence of no value).

 

That last Louisiana picture looks like the colorized b&w drawing from USCG website (note nearly identical coloration to 1861 Harriet Lane at same site).

 

The cutters had a mixed mission, as you know. They were lightly armed because they were not warships. Most of their opponents were more likely to try to run away rather than fight (for a smuggler, a fight was not profitable).

 

I need to do some digging, but I came across some interesting anecdotes concerning the cutters here in Quoddy Bay Customs Dustrict during the time of the Doughty Cutters. One piece that stood out was that the cutter would attempt to "hide" in the creeks and coves where they could not be seen at night by the smugglers. Also an interesting description of the incident between the Detector (I think) and the sea monster along the Maine coast.

 

I suspect that the paint scheme was dark, with as little contrasting colors (white or yellow, take your pick - whatever was obtainable at the time) as possible. Masts were probably left natural except around the doublings. A total waste to paint the portion being continually chaffed by the hoops, boom and gaff.

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Thanks Wayne. See that's the kind of logic I'm talking about. Why paint the masts white when the yard materials would scrap that paint off, makes total sense to me too. ;) To my knowledge I know of no period models of American schooners, pilot boats, cutters or otherwise however if you happen to know of any I'd be curious to see what they look like. But I agree with you the coloring of these ships would be directly related to their function. The Achilles model I posted is really working for me as far as a plausible color scheme, black hull, white stripe, green or white instead of red bulwarks, any exposed wood would be tarred and only in areas where use was constant (upper workings, wales connected to chain plates, stanchions, masts, etc.) As far as decorative colorings only enough for local captains to identify other ships by name and type, a larger ship may have 2 stripes etc.

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So I think I am narrowing this all down now (see image). One thing I would like to discuss is this stripe which goes right up to the channel. A lot of the models shown in this post just have a wale without this extra strip so not even sure if it exists but it does add some nice detail I'd like to add to the model. I ordered a 1/32 by 1/32 strip of holly for it however logically I have always seen channels as either black or wood so would it make sense that this white of tallow stripe be broken up by black or wood channels?  Could the stripe be black?

 

Next up is the cap rail (which I added), I've seen wood rails white rails and black rails, my question is wouldn't the rail have matched the splash thingie at the bow? And as another piece in constant use would painting it be a waste? Could the splash and railings be different colors from each other?

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Question guys, did period ship builders use different materials for planking vs railings, wales, upper workings etc. For that matter what was the function and purpose of a wale to begin with?

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There were different materials used for different parts. Let me try and find a good contemporary (1794) list of materials - will post it here when I find it.

 

As to function of wales, check Falconer and see what he has to say?

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Question guys, did period ship builders use different materials for planking vs railings, wales, upper workings etc. For that matter what was the function and purpose of a wale to begin with?

 

Attached is the materials for frigates as specified by Joshua Humphreys in 1794. 

 

1794-5-12d war dept to treas dept cost of building ZXA06 25-26.pdf

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Wayne I couldn't send you a message. By chance do you still have your plan of corel ranger?

 

Sorry about that - hadn't realized my mailbox overfloweth!!!

 

I do still have my plans for the Corel Ranger - at some point, I really need to move that one back to the table....

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Charlie, the wales acted as girders, stiffening the hull against hogging or drooping of the ends, especially when uppers and lowers were merged and constructed in an anchor stock or other interlocking fashion.  They remained in place in later ships, Constitution for example, but the plank around them thickened disguising their presence

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