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July 2011

Half Hulls - Why only half a ship?

The summer boating season is well underway which brings to mind boat related folk art including half hulls, ship models and pond boats. Ship models and pond boats are fairly obvious forms of folk art - some more primitive than others. Half hulls are half of a ship usually mounted on a piece of wood and it begs the questions: Why only half a ship? Where are the portholes, masts and other details?

Prior to the advent of the drawing board and computer CAD/CAM systems, half hull ship models were created by shipbuilders to carefully plan their ships’ design prior to commencing construction. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the builder would likely not be a man of learning; rather he was a craftsman familiar with the sea and performance of ships. He would use his experience to create a model with different hull shapes and sizes depending on the use of the ship. In some cases, the model was a sales tool for selling his ship building skills. Once a model was complete, it would be used to determine exact measurements in building the hull, scaled to the actual full size.

Initially models were built carved from a single block of wood, known as the block model. The second type was the lift model where strips of different thicknesses of wood were held together and carved into the proper shape. The model represented only the hull from the sheer line (curved shape at the top) to the keel. Since the outside planks of a boat could be 6 or 8 inches, the model was carved to the inside of the planking in order to properly measure the size of the ribs (or frame) of the ship.

A boat’s hull is symmetrical. If the hull is not symmetrical it will not properly track through the water and a captain would have trouble keeping the boat going in a straight line – or even worse. Hence, for the purposes of ship building, only half the hull was needed for accurate measurements. The builder could focus on getting half the boat designed perfectly and know that the other side would be exactly the same. Since the focus was on getting the hull right, there was no need for the designer to add other details such as portholes.

Antique half hulls are considered folk art and highly collectible maritime art. Those that can be identified to a specific ship or builder are more highly valued. They can also vary greatly in size from relatively small to ones that are multiple feet in length. Today you can still purchase newly created half hulls. These are not used in the creation of a ship but rather as documentation and decoration for ship enthusiasts. Many boats owners will have a half hull created for their ship to hang on the wall in their home or office.

Search for half hulls, pond boats, ship models and other maritime on Dig Antiques.

Here are a few interesting half hull references:


A Yacht Club Steeped in History

July brought us to the east coast where once again we enjoyed sailing on the Long Island Sound with Sheila’s brother. He is a member (and past commodore) of the Harlem Yacht Club which was founded in 1883 and moved to its current location on City Island (NY) in 1894. Every time we visit we are reminded of the importance that ships have played in US history and the traditions that yacht clubs carry on. After all, where else in today’s world is your dinner interrupted to stand for “colors” when the flag is lowered just before sunset? It is wonderful to experience a dining room full of people immediately stand in silence and show respect during the couple of minutes it takes to lower the flag.

We came up with this month’s topic because it was a question we’ve had when visiting the Harlem Yacht Club. Lining the walls are antique half hull models along with wonderful pictures of the late 1800s. We’ve seen them at antique shows and even occasionally had one – but we kept asking the question, why only half a ship? We thought you might find the answer interesting too.

We will be exhibiting at Manchester Pickers Market Antique Show on Aug 8 in Manchester NH and at the Adirondack Museum Antiques Show on Aug 13-14 in Blue Mountain Lake NY. Stop by the Baker & Co. Antiques booth and ask for your free Dig Antiques reusable tote bag – or just to say hi. We’d love to see you!

Tom & Sheila Baker

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