FROM SCANDINAVIAN fiords to the South Pacific, ship models have been made by many different civilizations. Among the most fascinating models are the "spirit ships" that were buried in Egyptian tombs to assist the dead in crossing the Nile.
On long voyages under sail, some seamen passed their leisure time making scrimshaw artifacts, while others made smaller versions of the ships on which they were serving. Some of the rarest and most interesting models now popular were made by French prisoners of war in the 19th Century. During the Napoleonic Wars, prisoners in England and Scotland made wonderfully detailed models of French and English men-of-war, imaginatively put together from scraps of ivory and leftover bones from the cookhouse.
Of great interest to collectors today are models from the 18th and 19th centuries, particularly those representations of great sailing ships such as Cutty Sark and Flying Cloud and such wonders of the sea as that iron leviathan of 1858, the Great Eastern.
Models generally fall into three categories: those made by shipwrights to aid in the planning and construction of full-size vessels; elaborate models authentic down to the last bolt and the last lashing in the rigging, made for advertising and display purposes, and models constructed by hobbyists, many of them active (or retired) sailors.
The variety is endless: Viking longboats, Portuguese carracks, Spanish galleons, British men-of-war, American tea clippers, paddle-wheel steamers and those swift, sleek ocean liners of the 1930s. There are few artifacts more romantic or more historical than model ships and, for homes up and down the California coastline, few more appropriate or more decorative.
Antique ship models can be found at Millstein's General Store in Los Angeles; Dana Book and Navigation Co. in Dana Point; Minney's Ship Chandlery and Vallejo Gallery (previously Antiques & Nautical) in Newport Beach; West Sea Co. and Maidhof Brothers in San Diego. NEWBOOKS