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Help evaluating old model of screw steamer USS BROOKLYN


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The USS City of Brooklyn this model possibly depicts would have been the Brooklyn launched in 1858. She was sold out of the service in 1891.  Her DANFS (Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, the USN's official and definitive history  source on all USN ships) can be found here: https://www.history.navy.mil/research/histories/ship-histories/danfs/b/brooklyn-i.html She also has a Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Brooklyn_(1858)






This, the first of three Brooklyns to bear that name and one of the earliest steam-auxiliary USN fighting ships, had a long career and particularly extensive and distinguished service in the Civil War.


While the workmanship is crude and quite inaccurate, "impressionistic" one might say, the condition of the paint and absence of obviously modern materials indicates the model is old. The apparently printed ensign, having fewer stars in the field than at present, may provide some clue to dating the model. It is clearly neither a kit, nor is it a commercially manufactured decorators' piece. It's almost certainly a "one-off" model and quite likely contemporary (built while the ship existed) or built later by someone familiar with it. Of interest is the detail shown on the propeller and shaft and the smokestack compared to the detail of the rigging and deck furniture. This was one of the first screw-driven naval vessels in the Navy and the modeler seems to have considered those features of importance.


As is, considering its apparent age, it is in good condition and likely requires little repair or conservation. (Which is another topic entirely. Just remember how many antiques have been featured on Antiques Roadshow were worth many time less than they would have been if the owner hadn't refinished them!)  From the two photos you've provided, which are much less than would be required for any real appraisal, I'm going to go out on a limb here and hazard a guess that it is a "sailor made" model by a former crewmember, possibly by someone in the engineering department rather than a deck or gunnery department. It was not uncommon for sailors to make models of their favorite ships they'd served on for personal mementos or as gifts for loved ones back at home. Sailor-made models built from memory often emphasize the area of the sailor-builder's posting on the ship, with other areas less detailed.


The value of any antique is always a function of what some collector will pay for it. This is a ship model and it may well be of some marketable value, but not as a ship model per se, but rather as a contemporary historical artifact. If, and that may be a big if, you can establish the model's provenance, that is, who built it, when, and why, it may be of significant value. If not, it remains an interesting curio, but isn't likely to be worth big bucks. If you can connect the model to a builder who served on the vessel, a relative perhaps, and even better if you can then research their military history and be able to place them aboard during some of the famous battles in which Brooklyn engaged, such as the Battle of Mobile Bay, you will have something quite likely marketable on the specialized auction market. There is a niche category for "trench art" and folk arts and crafts pieces made by soldiers and sailors in wartime among militaria collectors. I expect the model would bring a much higher price in an auction of Civil War memorabilia if its provenance can be established linking its builder and his service aboard the ship than simply as a "ship model." That's were I'd see it's value to be. Otherwise, I think it's a very cool old folk art model, but nothing you'll ever see a lot of money out of.




Edited by Bob Cleek
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Hey Bob, many many thanks for your great reply, way beyond what I’d ever expected, I was more expecting a one line yep it ight be old :) but I never would have thought it was possibly as old as civil. War and maybe even by a sailor wow wish I could prove that. I bought it about 12 years ago at an auction in Massachusetts when we lived there, it came in a glass case hence the condition I suppose. I’d Like to take it out of the case just once to look for any clues as to its origin and photograph all sides to track its condition. Once again thank you so much  I’m so glad you guys have such a passion for this subject I find model ships fascinating when they are very detailed you can’t help filling each line of rigging from source to end, I guess reading all the Patrick OBrian novels nudged towards buying this ship in the first place ️ I’m attaching a couple more pics




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One thing you can do that won't hurt its value any is to lose the ribbons tied to the mastheads. They aren't original to the model and they aren't anything but somebody's idea of a decoration. :D 


BTW, the glass case is a big plus. Obviously, somebody (probably the maker) cared enough to protect it. It was important to them. That adds more credence to the possibility that it was built by someone who had sailed aboard her. Look carefully for a signature, on the keel, perhaps. You might get lucky.

Edited by Bob Cleek
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Thanks again Bob, i’d Never thought of looking at the keel. I’ll take the ribbons off and get the magnifying glass out and scour the keel area. Box is 1/2 hardwood on three sides, top unscrews and the glass slides out maybe I can gently see if it comes out of the slot it’s in. 

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  • 9 months later...



1879 - Isaac Evans

A Gloucester City New Jersey man built a model of the USS Brooklyn.
USS Brooklyn was built in 1858 and saw heavy combat during the Civil War. She was decommissioned in 1889.

Not sure if this was his model?


I attached a newspaper article about his model.


Patrick Ward

Gloucester City NJ.



No photo description available.

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I’m comfortable saying the ‘yellow’ paint wasn’t yellow originally. It was probably white with a layer of varnish over the white. The varnish, over time, changed to a yellowish color. You may notice the lighter color peeking through the cracks of the varnish in the last photo you shared.

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