The importance of warship models

The Royal Navy ship models from the 17th to 19th centuries are of immense historical value. They are unique records of the development of warship design.

Very little information is available elsewhere – almost no plans of the 17th-century ships survive. Even in the 18th century, rigging plans were rare and much of our knowledge is derived from models with original rigging.

Surviving collections

The National Maritime Museum has the world's largest collection of ship models from this period.

Several other museums in this country have examples, such as the Science Museum in London and the Pitt-Rivers Museum in Oxford. Others are in museums abroad, from Boston to Leningrad. Some are in private collections. It is not known how many have survived – there may be as many as 400.

Improvement or conservation

The main purpose of a model is, of course, to show the miniature appearance of a ship. This does not mean that they are fully realistic or complete and later owners have sometimes tried to ‘improve’ them. Few official models were rigged and some were rigged long after the hulls were made.

The National Maritime Museum has rigged and coppered a few examples in the past but we now regard the models as historic objects in their own right. Our philosophy is to keep them as close to their known early appearance as possible. This is complicated because later additions may themselves be part of the historical record. It is important to preserve all evidence of the original model. Nothing is replaced or added – no material is removed even if it is incomplete or damaged. All repairs are made so that they can be detected and not mistaken for original work.