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Old model shipways USS essex (solid hull)

Mike Esposito

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I am not certain that any frigate would be considered a beginner's kit, but at that price I think it would be safe to say it is a good investment even if you hold it in reserve while you build  a couple of other ships for practice if you want.


Just a personal observation. Your skill level may be at a level that you can start with the Victory and make a nice model. Others have done it. 



Build logs: Colonial sloop Providence 1/48th scale kit bashed from AL Independence

Currant builds:

Constructo Brigantine Sentinel (Union) (On hold)

Minicraft 1/350 Titanic (For the Admiral)

1/350 Heavy Cruiser USS Houston (Resin)

Currant research/scratchbuild:

Schooner USS Lanikai/Hermes

Non ship build log:

1/35th UH-1H Huey


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The real question is "how old is 'old'?" Model Shipways makes excellent kits and always has, but times change and Model Shipways has improved their kits a lot over the years.  Hence, an "old" Model Shipways kit of a particular vessel may well be quite different from a modern kit of the same vessel. As they say, "Don't ask me how I know this."


I am generally wary of any kit on eBay because, in the first place, you really can't know if the kit is complete. I strongly suspect few are. There are a lot of parts that can be lost or broken.  Plans sheets get lost. Stuff happens. There's no way to even know if all the parts are there until one goes through the entire lot, assuming there's a parts list to go by.


Old Model Shipways kits will likely have cast metal fittings with considerable lead content and it is quite possible to encounter problems with "lead bloom" or "lead rot" as the lead oxidizes, particularly in acidic environments. Neither will you find any highly detailed photo-etched parts in old kits. Old Model Shipways kits will not have anything near the plans and instructions found in their current kits. Model Shipways kits today seem to often include detailed multi-page instruction "practicums" written by professional modelers, as well as very good plans drawings. The old kits provided a few plans sheets, a single typed page of "instructions," and that was it. It also bears mentioning that the standards of the art have been raised exponentially over the last few decades. In many respects, the old kits, if built as intended, will end up looking a bit crude compared to what a lot of modelers turn out today. To build a 30 or 40 year old, or more, ship model kit to present-day standards will require a considerable amount of scratch-building. The blocks and deadeyes, such as they are, will likely be unacceptable in quality. The same goes for the rigging thread. (Many purchase after-market versions of these items even when building the current kits because the kit materials aren't up to their desired quality.)  In the end, there won't be much in the box of an old kit that ends up in the model when all is said and done. (Of course, there's a lot that doesn't end up in a well-built model out of today's kits, too!)


I'd suggest that if you are considering a first kit, you select a modern kit specifically recommended by the manufacturer for builders who are new to the hobby. I believe both Model Shipways and Bluejacket Shipcrafters rate their kits on the basis of the experience one should have to build them. I would strongly suggest you follow the manufacturers' advice. Build a "beginner" kit, then move up to an "intermediate" kit, and so on. A lot of builders on this forum have several, or more, very expensive kits sitting on their workshop shelves waiting to be built. In most instances, I suspect, a lot of those un-built kits were "donated" by folks whose "eyes were bigger than their stomachs," as my father used to say when we didn't finish our meals. It would be a shame to bite off more than you could chew and go sour on the hobby when you might otherwise have found it a great pastime if you'd eased into it. I would not encourage someone without experience modeling ships, and particularly modeling ships in wood and metal and thread, to attempt a vessel like the Essex for their first outing.


If you are interested in seeing what is involved in building the Model Shipways Essex, take a look at the build logs index on this forum and see if someone has done a build log on it. That would give you a good idea of whether you feel you have the ability to tackle challenge of that magnitude.

Edited by Bob Cleek
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Hey there, it's funny because I just bought a "vintage" Essex solid hull on e-Bay myself! The plans and literature date it as 1953, there's also a copy of "A Notebook For Ship Model Builders" dated as 1950.  I guess they had 2 sizes of this model, mine is the smaller(unfortunately). It's 5/64=1'. I only picked it up because the seller only wanted $15. they said it was complete, who knows? Looks like a couple of the fittings wax envelopes are empty? I may just for giggles, do a hull and deck version, no masts or rigging. Well, we'll see, I have a Model Shipways USN Picket Boat #1 waiting for me! This old kit looks like a nightmare to figure out! It will be just a test for me to see what I can make out of it...Definitely the newer kits are way more detailed and I would say, come out way more accurate.

     Current:         Emma C. Berry Lobster Smack-Model Shipways-1:32-1866

        Back on the shelf:    USS Essex- MS- "Old Yellow Box" Solid Hull  Wall Hanger (Half Hull)                                                                                                                                                                                              

   Completed:    18th Century Armed Longboat-MS 1/24

                          USN Picket Boat-MS 1864 1/24                                  

                          US Brig Syren by Sea Hoss- Model Shipways-1803

                          18th Century Carronade/Ship Section

                          Mayflower-Pilgrims Pride by Sea Hoss-Model Shipways-1620

                          18th Century Long Boat by Sea Hoss-Model Shipways

                          USS Constitution by Sea Hoss-Revel-Plastic

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As a rule of thumb, I would leave any of the old "yellow box" Model Shipways kits for the collectors (unless it was the lumber schooner Forrester -- I have my weaknesses). Bob's observations above are spot-on.

Chris Coyle
Greer, South Carolina

When you have to shoot, shoot. Don't talk.
- Tuco

Current builds: Brigantine Phoenix, Hawker Hurricane

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I agree with those recommending a new modern kit. The wood won’t be dry and splintery and warped, the contents will be intact, the plans won’t be stained with someone else’s coffee rings, etc. a fair comparison of the cost of a new kit over an old one should take into account the amount of unknown troubles the eBay kit could contain. And if you’re going to spend six months to a year completing the kit, the higher cost of the new kit will mean only a few more pennies each day of work. Pennies that are totally worth it.




 Niagara USS Constitution 


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I agree with all said above, especially if you’re new to modeling ... incomplete kits can be very frustrating. 


But I’ll  offer one exception that the old kits provided that newer ones don’t:  Some of the old kits had solid hulls made of really good wood .. very dense, straight grain a pleasure to work with hand tools.  Not sure if it was old growth pine or southern yellow pine, but was really nice stuff. Found two Dapper Tom kits on eBay from late ‘50s early ‘60s. The rest of the wood was pretty much junk (warped dowels, splintery planks) and castings with white powder corrosion product on them, and discolored and rotting rigging thread. 


So, I too would stay away from “vintage” kits, unless trying to win the lottery and find a solid hull that can take a beautiful finish. 



"If they suspect me of intelligence, I am sure it will soon blow over, ha, ha, ha!"

-- Jack Aubrey



Yankee Hero, Fannie Gorham, We’re Here, Dapper Tom (x3), New Bedford Whaler, US Brig Lawrence (Niagara), Wyoming (half hull), Fra Berlanga (half hull), Gokstad Viking Ship, Kate Cory, Charles Morgan, Gjoa

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I purchased a yellow box Essex around 1968 or so.  It was to be my 3rd Model Shipways model after Young America and News Boy.  The instructions are very simple.  Essentially: "take the wood in the box and turn it into a model of the Essex."  Using the Neophyte Ship Modeler's Jackstay book from MS and later a much more thorough instruction book from MS (forgot the author) and lots of patience and purchasing a bazillion more blocks of various sizes, I finally completed her around 2004.  I also built a few plank on frame kits during that time and had to redo work on the Essex as I gained more experience.   In the end I have an impressive model of which I am very proud.  some  pictures are here


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  • 1 month later...

I received this very kit (yellow box and all) from a friend of my former employer.  They were cleaning out her house to put it on the market and found the kit that her husband had purchased years ago.  I think it is of the fifties vintage.  Looking it over it is complete.  I'm struggling through Scientific's USS Constitution (No. 170) very small scale, some parts issues, but good practice prior to taking on the USS Essex.

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