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Apologies if this topic is not a new one. I wanted to start discussion about the Conway Anatomy of the Ship series of books. I think they represent a great resource for ship model builders and are worthy of a discussion. I see the titles appear one at a time in some posts here on Books and Publications but I am interested in some general sharing of knowledge among those who have the books and those who have questions about specific titles. If the idea of this topic is too broad or if the mods think it is covering a topic already discussed I hope they will delete this thread.

I have six volumes so far and I would like to collect them all. The original three I acquired were all second editions published in England by Conway in 2001 and 2003. These were The Pandora The Bounty and The Endavour. They have a silver background to the cover art and each has a two sided dust jacket with a large fold out ship diagram on the reverse. A note on the covers states “Complete with fold out plan”.

The other three I acquired online and all three of these were published by the Naval Institute Press for North American distribution. These were The Diana The Bellona and The Blandford. Each of these had a white background to their cover art and none of them have the large fold out plan. I was a bit let down when I discovered the Naval Institute Press editions I had did not include the nice feature of the fold out plan.

Which makes me ask the question, did the original Conway published editions have the plan? Since I only have three of the NIP editions I do not know if other titles have published by NIP have or do not have the fold out plan, or for that matter if all the Conway U.K. published titles originally had the plans. Or perhaps only a few of them did. Anyone have a Bellona Diana or a Blandford with a fold out plan?

Another curious thing about these books is their dramatic price differences when found online.


Conway (now an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing) has a paperback HMS Victory! Are there/were there other paperback editions?

The Conway website oddly also has Pandora listed twice for no discernable reason. There are only a few titles from the series available here. Are the rest out of print?


On Ebay some of the titles are less than twenty dollars while others top one hundred, sometimes under the same title. Some of this skewing must be attributed to the varying expectations of the sellers, but is there more at work? Are some genuinely harder to come by? I quick search for “Naval Cutter Alert” reveals prices between $50 and $104.


That’s all I have for now but the discussion of these books could go on since each was written by a different person and there is significant variation in the type of content included. They all have drawings but some have more rigging information than others, I note.

Would love to hear the personal experiences of the Model Ship World people.




 Niagara USS Constitution 


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As far as sailing vessels go, the best of the series was the first volume on HMS Diana, by David White. The others are not as good, as general references, and most have major issues, like the Constitution framed as though she came from an English yard! Brian Lavery's Bellona was the worst, IMHO, many drawing being mere small tracings in a sea of white paper.


I think the series format is rather dated. Unless you are building a specific ship that is the subject of one of the other volumes, like Bounty or Pandora, they are unnecessary. I would highly recommend the classic "The Construction and Fitting of English Men of War" by Peter Goodwin, as well as Diana book.


Alas no centerfold of sweet Diana!

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Thanks guys. Can you give any specifics about where the information in the books is at fault? The framing of the Constitution is noted. What is wrong with the Bellona?

In my experience the rigging schedule in HMS Pandora was very useful, there is a comprehensive list of every line giving diameter and block sizes. Something similar appears in HMS Bounty. I don't see this sort of information anywhere else and in the case of the Pandora the books tables were more useful even than Lee's Masting and Rigging, since it was so specific and  comprehensive. Like the fold out plans, I was sad to see that the rigging schedule was not a feature or all the books.




 Niagara USS Constitution 


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As noted, this topic has been discussed at length before. Search the archives for the back story. Two of many issues in the AOS series are inconsistency between drawings and inaccuracy of constructional detail. Some books are better than others, but there is no substitute for research from primary (that is to say, contemporary to the time period) sources. 

Be sure to sign up for an epic Nelson/Trafalgar project if you would like to see it made into a TV series  http://trafalgar.tv

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Whilst perceived deficiencies in the AotS series may make them less useful to the purist and perhaps scratch builder, as a mere basher of kits I have found them to provide a lot of useful information. The Bellona for instance gives sometimes hard to track down details such as the anchor and cable sizes, the sizes of the ships boats, Rigging sizes, the length of the guns, and sizes of the tackles.


A lot of the drawings in the series give a useful guide to fittings for those wishing to enhance their kits, and I like the career history details of the vessels given in each book.


I currently have 13 of the series collected over many years and my latest  recent acquisition is that of the Frigate Essex which I got from the USA at very reasonable cost.


As you may have gathered, I rather like them. :)



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I quite agree with B.E.  There's issues to be sure, but they are a great help when figuring things out.

"The shipwright is slow, but the wood is patient." - me

Current Build:                                                                                             
Past Builds:
 La Belle Poule 1765 - French Frigate from ANCRE plans - ON HOLD           Triton Cross-Section   

 NRG Hallf Hull Planking Kit                                                                            HMS Sphinx 1775 - Vanguard Models - 1:64               


Non-Ship Model:                                                                                         On hold, maybe forever:           

CH-53 Sikorsky - 1:48 - Revell - Completed                                                   Licorne - 1755 from Hahn Plans (Scratch) Version 2.0 (Abandoned)         



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Blue Ensign and Mark, you're both quite right. We don't have perfect books, but the quest for that information you want, need and desire is a major part of the why we delve through them. So, some sources are better than others. Finding the nugget is a moment to savor.


As the poet sang "What a long, strange trip it's been..."


Started: MS Bounty Longboat,

On Hold:  Heinkel USS Choctaw paper

Down the road: Shipyard HMC Alert 1/96 paper, Mamoli Constitution Cross, MS USN Picket Boat #1

Scratchbuild: Echo Cross Section


Member Nautical Research Guild

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I agree largely with BE here, in that the series has its faults, but I think they are worth having for what they are. At the moment I have five in the series, the Royal Yacht Caroline, Bounty, Alert, Victory, and my latest aquisition Granado. Each volume contains a short history of the ship concerned and has photos and paintings of the ship, including photos of replicas where appropriate, together with detailed drawings, details of fittings, tables of rigging sizes, etc. 


I think that on the Victory is probably the best of the five, which I bought for use with my bow section build. It has a most useful table at the back of the book, which besides giving various rigging line circumferences, also includes vital information on block and heart sizes. Not all of the books seem to include the latter, which I think is unfortunate. I think my main gripe is that the books are not consistent in giving important information that the modeller needs to know, which I suppose stems from them having been written by various authors. However, perhaps the publishers should have given them rather stricter guide lines on what to include, since these are primarily aimed at ship modellers.


I have noticed, and it has been mentioned on this site, that some of the drawings are inaccurate (I can remember there was a discussion on how the gun rigging was drawn in one of the books) and wouldn't be practical in reality. Ok, these were probably a slip by the artist, but it would be nice to get it right.


Of the five, that on the Caroline and the Bounty have white dust jackets. These two are dated 1989 and do not have plans on the inside of the cover. The later three books, dated 2000 – 2005, are reprints from earlier versions, and all have drawings included on the reverse of the silver covers. The five were produced by Conway.


All in all though they are worth having, if only for having all this information in one place.

Edited by Stockholm tar



Current builds: Sherbourne (Caldercraft) scale – 1/64th;


Statsraad Lehmkuhl (half model) 1/8th" – 1'.


Victory Bow Section (Panart/Mantua) scale – 1/78th  (on hold).


Previous build: Bluenose ll (Billings) scale – 1/100th.

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Latest Conway Anatomy of the Ship titles offered online at very odd prices:  Bellona for  $102.58 and Endeavor for $264.33. The good news is they both come with free shipping. My theory for the wildly inappropriate pricing is that the seller is trying to make you feel better when you click on his (conjectured) other book, selling for "only" $75.

What bothers me is that when I DO see a pricey book I really AM considering buying, its now going to haunt me that maybe this book is ALSO vastly overpriced and I am just not in the know.




 Niagara USS Constitution 


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  • 4 weeks later...

I have all of the books in the AoS series, both sail and steam. All were bought when first published in the UK, meaning most are when Conway was known as Conway Maritime Press (and then a better publishing house too). A number of the 'modern' warship AoSs, including the Queen Mary, were written by a former illustration student of mine, Ross Watton, so I can vouch for the accuracy of his research, draughts and illustrations!


Over the years I've been in contact with a number of the authors so know something of the difficulties in putting these books together, not the least the incredible amount of time required to complete the draughts and illustrations (there is a difference!). Whilst some authors were more thorough in their approach than others - John McKay in comparison to Al Ross for example; the former thorough and conscientious, whilst the latter less so, resulting in a reliable reference source from McKay but far less so from Ross. My reasoning is self-evident when examining either author's works.


Another problem not always appreciated is that the original source material prior to putting pen to drawing paper was not always readily available or easily accessible. This does mean short-cuts had to be taken at times, but then anyone considering building an accurate model of a named ship at a particular time in her career will never rely on a single source, but search out all available material, and more if time permits. On this basis this series is a worthwhile addition to any nautical library and I would recommend them. There are always caveats to consider when researching a subject, and the use and application of these books is no exception. We would definitely be the poorer without them!


As time has progressed and more information has come to light, even internationally recognised authorities have subsequently been shown to have made unwitting errors in some of their works. Norman Ough, Ike Marsh, David MacGregor and Harold Underhill are but a few who come to mind. Maybe we expect too much sometimes! 


By the way, in cost verses time spent, these books never made their authors money!

member of
United States Naval Institute

Royal United Services Institute

Society for Nautical Research
Navy Records Society
author of
The Art of Nautical lllustration - A Visual Tribute to the Classic Marine Painters, 1991, 2001 & 2002
United States Coast Guard barque Eagle, 2013 (Blurb Photobook)
former assistant editor of the quarterly journal and annual 
Model Shipwright and Shipwright 2010

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