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Did privateer ships during the American Revolution actually carry such fancy decorations? I enclosed a view of KenW's Fair American in which he made a spot on recreation of the Annapolis model's decoration. (The entire model is beautiful and one of my favorite subjects.) I have always loved this model and built one back when it was a solid hull kit.  I have started my own Fair American (for the zillionth time) and I've always wondered if any privateer would go to such extravagance. As I understand they were pure for profit ventures. Is there any documentation of any ships of there ilk or even merchant ships having some thing like this? I know the whole model of a model bit.

 

Kurt  

gallery_912_1069_720550.jpg

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Interesting question.  i suppose the answer is "it depends".  If it was custom built for the purpose, perhaps - intent was to appear as somewhat innocent, confused for a merchant until in range.  I suspect the level of fancy work was reflective of the owners, but no documentation I can cite. 

 

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To me it seems an extravagance, and one that would be a PIA to keep looking halfway decent on a ship whose goal was profit. As for a presentation model, I could understand the extra flourish completely. I'm wondering if it is just artistic license on the original model. I am only questioning the practice of the day with regards to actual ships.

 

Kurt

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I've seen a similar amount of detail in decoration on the plans of captured privateers in the NMM archives (Such as the brig Swift and corvette Rattlesnake)

http://forum.game-labs.net/uploads/monthly_05_2016/post-22490-0-12473700-1464299690.jpg

https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/6d/f4/94/6df494aa752c87b5eebac9dd9fbf4862.jpg

http://www.modelshipbuilder.com/e107_files/public/1388514821_4270_FT0__sloop_swift_1783_.jpg

The Royal navy were meticulous with accuracy on as captured plans, even if they modified the ship greatly right after taking the lines. I'd say that its still is significantly less decoration than on a contemporary Royal or Continental Navy Frigate, for example (see the Confederacy https://modelshipworld.com/uploads/gallery/album_771/med_gallery_31_771_153925.jpg or Minerva http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/66278.html, for example) but this level of decoration more or less disappeared on the privateers (french and American) of the 1790s through 1815. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

I'll chime in to add in the "it depends".  American privateers were a way to make a patriotic investment for potential financial gain.  Civic pride may have deemed some decoration necessary.  Or some decoration may have been added to thank an investor.  That kind of thing goes on today and I feel it may also have gone on back then.

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One reason that American Revolutionary War privateers might carry decorations, would be to blend in with the rest of the sea traffic. There is nothing more suspicious that a bland, austere ship edging down on you, giving you an early chance to make your escape. So both merchant built conversions like the Oliver Cromwell (ex-Juno) , and purpose built privateer like the Rattlesnake, were richly adorned, just like the average merchantman would be. 

 

But by 1812, however, the 'baltimore clippers' were so fast and weatherly, that it didn't much matter. Their rig alone would have given them away. The few surviving plans and paintings show them to be rakish, mostly black, plain and sinister looking. The general naval and private style of that period was to replace full figureheads with busts or fiddleheads, and to substitute the stern figures with scroll work and rope tracery, in the "French Fashion". 

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