Since their initial invention thousands of years ago, men and women across the world have been fascinated by their impressive prowess as vessels of worldwide transportation, as well as the nautical culture which surrounds them.
So it is easy to understand why creating miniature models of them has been such a popular hobby. Models of boats from ancient times have been excavated from cultures such as Greece, Egypt, and Phoenicia. While these examples often held religious, ritualistic, or economic implications and purposes, today model ship building and collecting is a widespread hobby with a lucrative international market. Every boat ever built has its own unique story to tell, and model ships are no exception.
At a time when boats were the most cutting edge and advanced technology available to civilized cultures, model ships were expressions of the great importance and significance that they held for people of the time and could be found throughout the Mediterranean. Archaeological evidence points towards ancient models being used as burial items, votive offerings, and even household items such as lamps or drinking vessels. While these examples can tell us much about their correspondent cultures and eras, they cannot be assumed as being wholly accurate replicas of ships, as is typically the intention of modern models, due to limitations in resources as well as the skills of the artist; thus these artifacts more so lend themselves to serving as examples of how boats may have been interpreted by artists and craftsmen of the time. Despite some of these hinderances in explicating the meaning of these models, archaeologists and scholars have been able to reap an abundancy of information and knowledge about ancient maritime and seafaring, which has been highly contributory to bridging some of the gaps in the life and culture of these societies.
The 19th century saw a rapid advancement in ship technology due to the effects of the Industrial Revolution and the invention of steam powered vessels. These improvements changed the way the world interacted with each other, as transportation across oceans became more high powered, inexpensive, and faster than ever. It also changed the nature of warfare, as would later be tragically exemplified by the results of the first World War. As the world witnessed these great innovations, it is easy to see how the next century would see a wild increase in the interest of nautical technology and culture, and subsequently model ship building.
In 1900, improvements in machine tools allowed for great advancements in the assembly of model ships, as rusting could be prevented by covering iron parts in thin layers of tin, which could then be mass produced as parts in a kit. Companies such as Boucher in America, Bassett-Lowke in the UK, and Radiguet in France appeared that sold amateur model ship kits that provided necessary parts for at home assembly. In the late 1920s, Popular Science magazine published an extended series featuring plans and articles about the model ships of model builder and former Navy officer E. Armitage McCann; this resulted in a widespread popularization of model ships, and the elevation of McCann to the status of one of the great fathers of the hobby. Together with associates he founded the Ship Model Makers’ Club in 1929.
"For model ship enthusiasts, building these replicas is not simply a way to pass time, but also a means by which to build skillmanship, develop a craft, educate oneself and others, and escape the trials and mundanity of everyday life."
Today, ship modelers and collectors look to the long running magazine, Model Boat, which has been in production in the UK since 1950. In recent decades, members of the hobby have been able to further unite by means of the internet, using sites like Modelwarships.com, Hyperscale.com, and Steelnavy.scom to display their work, discuss techniques, negotiate transactions, and collectively engage with their interests.
For model ship enthusiasts, building these replicas is not simply a way to pass time, but also a means by which to build skillmanship, develop a craft, educate oneself and others, and escape the trials and mundanity of everyday life. It is no wonder that to this day so many people turn to model ship building and collecting as an effective way in which to extrapolate a sense of accomplishment, knowledge and enjoyment from the world in the comfort of one’s own home. Thus it is easy to predict with certainty that this hobby will continue to thrive for generations to come.