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Recently Acquired Antique Shop Models

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A neighbor recently gave me two antique wooden ship models.  They belonged to his uncle and he believes they were built circa 1900.  One has no name and was badly damaged when it was given briefly to a 2-year-old to play with.  It appears to be completely hand made and the hull appears to be carved from a solid block of wood.  The second is a model of Sovereign of The Seas.  It is complete with very little damage, but is still in need of a fair amount of work.  The detail on this model is far greater and many components appear to be cast metal, suggesting that it was perhaps built from a kit.  I've attached photos.

 

Any help identifying the unnamed ship, kit manufacturer(s) or possibly ship builders would be greatly appreciated.

 

Thank you,

 

Ed

 

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Beautiful models! Looks like they were pretty dusty before the real trouble started. if they are as old as you think they are it is likely their rigging was very brittle anyway and they would have needed extensive work even before the two year old went to work. I really  like the ships boats on that one model, I think its the lowermost one in the photos. Really nice work in evidence.

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The posted pictures are mixed up a bit.  The bottom picture is of a model of Sovereign of the Seas.  The first and third pictures are of a boat with no name, at least that I've been able to find.  And yes, it's a shame it was given to a young child to play with.  The neighbor had given me Sovereign already and when he saw what the 2-year-old had done to the other model he took it back and gave that one to me as well.

 

The no-name model was almost certainly hand-built by somebody with modest skills, but the details of Sovereign lead me to believe it must have been a kit.  That said, I've been unable to find on the internet any reference to kits for these models.  Perhaps my neighbor is mistaken about their age -  he's in his late 70s and he said his uncle told him they were built circa 1900 - but you'd think there would be a brochure or some other reference on the internet, if not to a kit specifically for the Sovereign then at least to a catalog of generic ship parts for modelers.  I was going to post a couple more photos showing some of the cast metal parts (I find it hard to believe that somebody went to the trouble of casting these themselves for this one model) but I'm not seeing the paperclip anywhere...

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I figured it out... more photos attached.  I mentioned cast parts such as the anchor & bell, but there are other metal parts such as the pumps, stair railing stanchions and probably some others that slip my mind.  If these parts were from a kit or catalog, I would think they could help date the model.

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Ed, the original Fisher company closed when the owner, Bob Irwin, died some years ago. I heard that some of the business had been picked up by someone, but I don't know what part, or by whom.

 

Bob

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The metal fittings on the model, and their condition (pretty good!) raises the point of lead corrosion on old models.

.

http://www.navsea.navy.mil/Home/WarfareCenters/NSWCCarderock/Resources/CuratorofNavyShipModels/LeadCorrosioninExhibitionShipModels.aspx

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Lead was used in ship model kits in the early days of the hobby, and decades later these lead parts usually corrode into white powdery flakes-ruining the models they were put into. At some point in the past Britannia Metal - an alloy mostly of tin- was introduced by kit manufacturers as a substitute with more longevity. Notice I don't quote any dates here. But the point is that I THINK your models metal parts couldn't be lead since they exhibit no corrosion. Which means they date from a point farther into the 20th century than the early Teens. I could be wrong about the timeline I lay out above, but on the other hand it has always been my understanding that Britannia Metal came in later and replaced lead. I wish I could tell you when the new metal supplanted the lead parts, maybe someone here knows?

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JerseyCity Frankie,

 

That's good information... thank you.  If it is an A.J. Fisher model I've found adds for their Sovereign kits dating as far back as 1933.  I sent an email to the current owner of A.J. Fisher, but haven't heard back yet.  I'll update the post as more information comes in.

 

Thanks,

 

Ed

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Frankie: lead deteriorates at a rate dependent on the atmosphere and temperature it's exposed to. I've seen lead 'fuzz' in comparatively recent models and still undeteriorated lead in older models. Either way, it's toxic stuff and needs to be handled and disposed of appropriately. I've currently got a model for conservation with about 70-year old corroded lead cell batteries in it. They (and the lead-based paint that's flaking off) go to the hazardous waste disposal site.

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I have two models built from A. J. Fisher kits between 1940 and 1945 by my late father. One, a completed fishing trawler and the other a Flying Cloud, hull completed but unrigged. I still have all of the rigging parts but choose to display the model just as he left it. Needless to say I treasure them both, not as museum quality models, which they are not, but as a link to him.

 

In those days, A. J. Fisher was the Cadillac or perhaps Rolls Royce model kit producer. Wooden fittings- gratings, blocks, barrels, buckets and ladders were made from boxwood- the real stuff. Other fittings- capstans, windlasses, bells etc were machined from brass. Steering wheels were actually made with machined brass spindles inserted into a turned "fiber" ring that looks like mahogany. Some brass fittings specifically anchors and windlasses were furnished with a black oxidized finish. While not perhaps entirely accurate for the exact ship being modeled, their fittings are minirature replicas of real seagoing equipment. Some fittings such as bollards and figureheads were cast from what they called white metal and while it may contain lead the ones on my models have not oxidized over 70 years. I have no idea how they ever commercially produced this stuff!

 

the capstan in your photo looks like it may be one of their fittings. Check to see if it's brass. The steering wheel looks heavier than the one on my Flying Cloud. If it's a casting, I doubt if they made it. There are a couple of old A. J. Fisher Catalogs for sale on the Internet. One which is for sale on EBay is coincidentally open to the page describing their Soverign of the Seas kit.

 

Another source that you might to consider would be a book written in the 30's by E. Armitage McCann describing construction of a model of the Soverign of the Seas. It is possible that your builder built the model from plans contained in this book and made/bought fittings as necessary. Last night, I checked and their was a copy on a used book website for $0.99.

 

I agree with other responders that a careful restoration should yield a nice decorative model representative of 1930's era ship modeling.

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Roger, they produced all of the fittings in an extended garage behind the elder Irwin's house. The equipment was fascinating. It was ancient overhead belt driven and there was literally a machine for each kind of brass part. I sometimes sat and watched in awe as Bob Irwin turned out the parts. The machines were irreplaceable, and I assume that the new owner doesn't have the machines or make the brass parts.

 

Bob

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BOb,

 

A great rememberence. I hadn't realized that the company is still in business, but your right, the knowhow to produce the kind of quality that they did 70 years ago is probably lost forever. While I understand how they might have turned a 1/8th inch to the foot capstan on a lathe, I can't figure out how they machined the flutes on the same piece.

 

I dug out my copy of McCann's book and from what I can see the Soverign of the Seas model compares favorably with the plans in the book. The book was published in 1931. I believe that the model was built in the 30's or later.

 

Roger

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