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The American Fishing Schooners: 1825-1935 by Howard Chapelle

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The American Fishing Schooners: 1825-1935 By Howard Chapelle

  • Hardcover: 690 pages
  • Publisher: Norton; 1st edition (April 1, 1973)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393031233
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393031232

This is a great reference book for any serious model builder, with lots of details and illustrations, clearly charting the evolution of the design of the American fishing schooners over the golden age of their careers.


The evolution of the American fishing schooner from the 18th century to the last working and racing schooners of the mid-1930s is recounted in this book. The designers, builders and crews are discussed, and 137 plans of schooners show graphically the development of the type. An important feature of the book is its illustrated glossary-appendix, which covers items of hull construction and equipment, rigging and gear, colour and carving, and includes notes by the builders and riggers themselves.


Chapelle was born on February 1, 1901. From 1919, he worked as a marine apprentice and designer for a number of shipbuilders. After 1936, he went into business for himself, and later served as head of the New England section of the Historic American Merchant Marine Survey, a New Deal project designed to research American naval history and staffed by unemployed marine architects.


During World War II, Chapelle served in the United States Army Transportation Corps ship and boatbuilding program. In 1950, he ventured to England where he researched colonial ship design on a Guggenheim fellowship. In 1956/57, he served the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization as a consultant on fishing boat construction to the government of Turkey. Upon returning to America, he was appointed Division of Transportation curator of the National Museum of History and Technology. Ten years later, in 1967, he stepped down as curator to assume the role of Senior Historian. He retired in 1971, accepting the title of Historian Emeritus.


Even though some of Chapelle's adaptations of historical designs were imperfect, his large collection of draughts and information is still valuable today.  Many (most?) of his plans are available from the Smithsonian Institute at the History of Technology Division of the National Museum of American History.


His other books include:

  • American Sailing Craft
  • American Small Sailing Craft
  • The Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America, with Edwin T. Adney
  • Boatbuilding: A Complete Handbook of Wooden Boat Construction
  • The History of the American Sailing Navy: The Ships and Their Development
  • "Chesapeake Bay Crabbing Skiffs"
  • The History of American Sailing Ships
  • The National Watercraft Collection
  • The Search for Speed Under Sail: 1700 -- 1855
  • "Notes on Chesapeake Bay Skipjacks"
  • Yacht Designing and Planning



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  • 2 months later...

Another book by Howard Chapelle that I have is The Baltimore Clipper - Its Origin and Development. It was first published in 1930 and I have the 1965 reprint. It has accounts of Baltimore clippers during the 1812 war as well as comment on their origins from pilot boats, luggers and other vessels in the mid 1700s through the vessels of the Revolution. It concludes with their evolution into slavers and eventual finish around the mid 1800s. 

The book has informed my remake of the AL Harvey as it contains a number of deck and sail plans as well as descriptions of rigs  and hull shapes.

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I have and I use American Fishing Schooners: 1825-1935 By Howard Chapelle regularly.  I love this book.   If there is one negative for me for this book it is the fact that there is no index that makes sense.  There is so much good information in the second half of the book, but none of the key items or words are in the index.  Worse still, each item in the main text is presented alphabetically, and not necessarily categorically.    Still, I believe this book would enable any builder of an American schooner to do a  construct a very accurate and detailed model.


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  • 4 years later...

      Schooners are one of my favorite ships for modeling as they are a simple rig and not overly large, making them well suited to make in larger scales.  I have built mostly in 1/8" scale and details are very hard to reproduce to my satisfaction.:angry:  Having recently picked up a copy of this book, I am very happy to find so many of the finely drawn details shown in it that allow me a better shot at making them look more complete.  While it is true that trying to find a particular detail is sometimes difficult, when you do find it it is usually worth the extra effort.:D

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Another of Chapelle’s books not mentioned above is The Constellation Question, a published debate with Len Pollard on the authenticity of the relic vessel as one of the  first US Navy frigates vs a Sloop of War built in the 1850’s with Chapelle of course arguing that the relic was built in the 1850’s not the 1790’s.


Recent scholarship has proven that Chapelle was right on target permitting a historically accurate restoration of the vessel.  Fans (like me) of Chapelle, his work, and his writing will want to include a copy of this book to include in their collection.



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A book not mention n the above discussions is "Boatbuilding, A Complete Handbook of Wooden Boat Construction",

printed in 1941. Not a historical book about ships, but as it has turned out a handbook of wooden boat construction methodology.

Have used it numerous times as a reference for  scratch building wood boat models.

Bridgman Bob

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