It all started 25 years ago when, as part of my usual antique picking trips, I stopped in to explore a ladyís antique shop in Chicago and was lucky beyond belief to have found a damaged ship painting signed William York. The painting depicted a naval battle scene between Old Ironsides and a pirate frigate. The piece was so intricately painted that you could see the men on the decks, up on the riggings and on the yards, looking on in horror as volleys of cannon balls fly through the air, sails going up in a blaze of fire and mass confusion all around. The York painting set my collecting days in motion. I began to comb the city in search of more 19th and 20th century British and American maritime painting artists because I realized how prolific they were.

As my collection grew my interests began to broaden. After getting the York painting back from the restorer, doing some serious homework on the artist and fellow maritime artists, I became intrigued with the amount of history and folk lore that is such an integral part of collecting nautical antiques. I started to expand my collection to include ship models, scratch built, ranging from Columbusí stunning Santa Maria model ship to World War II battleships. My passion increased and I was fortunate to locate some intricate dioramas and well crafted half hulls. In some cases, I was even able to meet the builder and often times spoke with the family of the captain who sailed the real vessels in the 18th and 19th century.

Maritime arts have been a delight to many for hundreds of years. The passion of the collector or decorator to incorporate the nautical motif in todayís home is evidence of a continuing deep love for all things pertaining to the sea, sailing and the open waters. Sailors of old, as far back as Christís time, had plenty of free time on the seas during their long voyages. Many spent that idol time creating all types of crafts including rope work, ship models of all scales, scrimshaw ivory, and intricate sailorís Valentines made from carefully arranged sea shells usually given to their loved ones as keepsakes. Most of the models ships were crafted of wood. However , during the 17th through 19th century American and European prisoners were allowed by the guards and wardens to build POW models made of soup bones, barn wood, some with copper clad hulls. Today these early examples of POW models are extremely desirable for the serious collector and can command as much as five figure amounts at auction. There are five or six maritime auction houses around the world which specialize in these types of nautical items and when a major auction occurs, itís a guarantee that there will be a packed house.  

In some cases the historical significance of a particular maritime item will blow away the pre sale estimate and perhaps even set record prices for this type of item. Large financial institutions and corporations have amassed some very significant and important collections. Over the years these same institutions have donated a portion, or in some cases, an entire collection to some of the many fine maritime museums throughout the world. Most antique collectors and dealers have viewed these museum collections with astonishment and deep gratitude for the opportunity to view rare items that are such a deep part of history.

In the past ten years the demand for specialty items has drastically increased. I remember being thrilled when I purchased a wonderfully crafted pond model, the kind that were basically used on a lazy Sunday summer afternoon to sail in lagoons in the big cities. Pond sailing has been well documented and photographed. The Pond in New York Cityís Central Park is a good example of a beautiful lagoon setting in a large urban area. Designed by Frederick Olmsted, The Pond was specifically designed with pond model sailing in mind. The weighted keel pond model that I had purchased has become a top collectorís prize and, while many companies manufactured them, some were home built.

If you are considering starting a collection of maritime or nautical items, my suggestion is to read as much as possible, do your homework, visit museums, attend a few maritime auctions and remember to purchase what you like, but do not buy reproductions for they are just what the name implies.


About the author:

Bill Soich is owner of SeaQuest Nautical Gallery, specializing in 19th -20th Century Maritime Art & Antiques. The shop is located at 1306 SE 46th Lane, Unit #1 in Cape Coral, FL. PH: 239-541-0066, email: adrydock@aol.com


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