Boats that don't float are making waves: In the market for model yachts it is the static museum-pieces which fetch the really high prices, reports John Windsor

Elaborate 'dockyard' models, assumed for three centuries to have been copied by shipwrights making full-size ships, are now thought to have been made to satisfy the vanity of grown-up boys with a passion for grown-up toys. Simon Stephens, curator of ship models at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, has gathered evidence that even 'Navy Board' models, made in the 100 years from 1650, were often commissioned by individuals - admirals, captains, high-ranking civil servants - as collectables or presentation pieces.

Some were not completed until years after the ship itself had been built, with the guidance only of a plain 'block' - a carved wooden miniature of the hull. 'There is no real evidence that ship models played any part in the ship design of the time,' says Mr Stephens. 'A good quality Navy Board model took at least as long to build as the ship itself.'

He has found Navy Board letters complaining that a model of HMS Victory (the one launched in 1737, not Nelson's) was incomplete four years after the ship had entered service. Some of the models commissioned by the Board were for presentation to captains, such as one of Lord Anson's Centurion, launched in 1730, made to commemorate his circumnavigation of the globe in 1740-44.

Collecting ship models must have become something of a mania, at least among the naval aristocracy. Samuel Pepys, first secretary to the Admiralty, rescued his collection from the Great Fire of London. The following year, 1667, when the Dutch fleet raided towns on the Medway, Peter Pett, the Navy's commissioner at Chatham, was ridiculed for saving his ship models instead of the ships themselves.

James I had a collection. Charles I doted on his miniature Sovereign of the Seas (in 1637 the first 100-gun ship). Admirals dangled exquisite models before George III like toys, hoping to inveigle him into spending more on the Navy.

Today, most Navy Board models are in museums. But whenever one appears at auction the price can go through the roof. A record pounds 154,000 was paid by a dealer at Christie's South Kensington last October for a 1702 Navy Board 50- to 54-gun warship.

Most other ship models are pathetically cheap. Philip Wride of Dartmouth, one of the country's best-known professional makers, has been commissioned by a Far Eastern museum to build an 8ft-long early 18th-century 96-gun three- decker, without rigging, which could take him 2,000 hours. His price is pounds 23,000 - pounds 11.50 an hour.

He recommends seeking the work of gifted amateurs at auction - 'perhaps that of someone who has sat down in retirement and researched and built just one model from scratch'. The going rate at auction for even top-class amateur models works out at a measly pounds 1 an hour. At Christie's South Kensington this month, a cased, rigged, scratch model of the clipper Norman Court by a well- known name, Ray Wilson, was estimated pounds 250- pounds 350. It probably took at least as many hours to make and sold for pounds 380.

A finely detailed, cased model of the royal yacht Caroline of 1749, by Ken Britten, a 2,500-hour job estimated pounds 2,200- pounds 2,800, went for pounds 2,750. Other makers' names to watch for: J C Bertola, J A Evans, Ron Chapman and Russell Philips. Avoid models made from kits (unhistoric, inaccurate). Spot them by their prefabricated plastic details.

Jon Baddeley of Sotheby's said that less skilled 'sailor-made' models (the polite term for amateur work) tend to be knocked down cheap. 'Some vendors tell me, 'But I've spent 3,000 hours on this'. I say, 'Well, it's still worth only pounds 300, but you've had the joy of making it'.'

Still going strong: French Napoleonic prisoners-of-war models, often made from mutton bone. They command pounds 10,000 or so at auction because they are exquisitely detailed and small enough to fit on a mantelpiece, to become irresistible talking points. (Did you know that captured French officers were billeted on parole with local families? They sometimes bought the lower ranks' ship models as gifts for their hosts.)

The Napoleonic Wars were the first without regular exchange of prisoners, and captured French craftsmen faced 10 years or more whittling bone or twisting human hair into rigging. At inland prisons such as Dartmoor and Norman Cross, the models' accuracy declined. A style developed: over-rigged with extra- high masts and over-steep bowsprit.

The National Maritime Museum is holding its first Model Boat Show on 11 and 12 June: 32 model clubs and 25 model-making companies will be represented. As a stunt, the press will be invited on Tuesday, 7 June, to race and crash model powerboats, - anathema to enthusiasts of model racing yachts, unkindly dubbed 'pond yachts' by auctioneers four years ago when they came into vogue. A good Twenties or Thirties model yacht can fetch pounds 1,000- pounds 2,000 (or big, named Thirties yachts, 60-80in long, more than pounds 4,000).

Enthusiasts of static models and working models live in very different worlds. However accurately a static model may be scaled-down, it keels over if set afloat. Model racing yachts do not attempt to be replicas. As model yacht maker and restorer Richard Howlett explained: if you scale down all dimensions by the same factor, the keel will be too light to keep a model upright. So model yachts have six racing classes of their own, designed from scratch.

When founded in 1876, the Model Yacht Sailing Association, whose members frequent the Round Pond in Kensington Gardens, drew up rules of entry, including blackballing, which matched those of any club in St James's. The question arose as to whether the owner's mate, the artisan with a 'turning pole' whose job it was to set the boat on fresh courses from distant sides of the pond, should be allowed to attend Association dinners. The answer was no. Some mates did, however, return home with their owners, where they resumed their responsibilities as servants.

Before radio control arrived in the Sixties, 'free sailing' boats raced in pairs rather than fleets, to avoid entanglement. The racing style of free sailers, auto-steered by a wind vane, is 'beating and running': start facing the wind and tack up, then let out the sails and run back downwind. Mr Howlett, secretary of the Vintage Model Yacht Group and measurer of the Model Yacht Sailing Association, is still resolutely a free sailing man. Half the country's model boat enthusiasts now use radio control. The annual model yacht regatta at the Round Pond is on Sunday 19 June.

Besides the Model Boat Show, the National Maritime Museum organises tours of the reserve collection and has copies of ships' plans (081-858 4422). Richard Howlett (071-480 5288).

(Photograph omitted)

Arts and Entertainment
books
Voices
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
News
Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
peopleAlice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
News
The Digicub app, for young fans
advertisingNSPCC 'extremely concerned'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, RSPSS, R, AI, CPLEX, SQL)

    £60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

    Law Costs

    Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...

    Junior VB.NET Application Developer (ASP.NET, SQL, Graduate)

    £28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...

    C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

    £40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

    Day In a Page

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
    She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

    Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

    The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
    American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

    Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

    James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
    Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

    Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

    Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

    Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

    Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
    The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

    The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

    If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution