The Modern Method
Ships in bottles have been around for over 200 years. One, believed to be around 250 years old, was found in Germany and bottles containing religious symbols may be even older. Today very fine work exists on all the world's continents.
The traditional method, which I will call the umbrella method, is comprised of collapsing the rigging against the hull, inserting the assembly into the bottle and then raising the rigging. This sounds much easier then it is.
Towards the end of the Great Depression, a new approach to building ships in bottles appeared. This new approach is one that I call the "modern" method. By this method the ship is disassembled outside, then reassembled within. Long tweezers and similar tools are used. I am a member of the modern school. It would be tempting to say that my method is better, but much traditional work of superb quality is around.
Why does one build ship models in bottles? There are probably nearly as many reasons as people building the models.
First, there is the aesthetic factor. Putting a beautiful ship in a bottle adds another dimension to the art of building fine models.
It is well to have the forms of the ship and the bottle compliment each other. I like specially made hand blown bottles. The Corning Company has some beautiful Pyrex flasks that are ideal for many projects. I strongly suggest the use of fine clear glassware.
The Church and Maple Glass Studio in Burlington, Vermont makes some superb hand blown glassware. The schooner Atlantic is in one of their bottles.
I like to leave a little extra space in the bottle, so the work doesn't seem cramped. How much extra space is a subjective call.
Another facet of the question "Why" is that a puzzle is set before the builder. This puzzle challenges the skills of the builder and teases the curiosity of the observer. In this and other ways the audience becomes a part of the game. The builder of ships in bottles is ethically bound to reveal the method of his/her crime. If Agatha Christie had not revealed both who done it and how they done it, I am sure her books would have collected a lot of dust. A friend once said: "People who keep secrets about how it is done, shouldn't put ships in bottles!"
I will now contradict my own premise by refusing to reveal the very colorful vocabulary that builders develop along the way.
I must toss in a paragraph for the armchair psychiatrists. Why do I do it? In effect I am putting myself in the bottle. It is a different world in there. The model is, to a degree, protected from the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune." The dust and fumes of our polluted world cannot penetrate the glass or a well-sealed stopper. The probing fingers of a curious observer do little harm, usually. I have a model which has been well cared for by the mariner's museum in Newport News, Va. (USA) for about 40 years. It appears to be in as good a condition as when the bottle was sealed.
It does not seem like a good idea to try to set up hard and fast rules for this work. When I have been tempted to do so, with this and other things, I have almost always found examples of violations of my precious rules that looked great. To steal a line from the late great Duke Ellington: "If it looks good, it is good!"
There is a society in the USA for interested parties as well as aficionados. We have a quarterly journal and (usually) bi-yearly meetings. For a subscription write:
Don Hubbard, Membership Chairman
Dues are $18.00 per year within North America.
For the German Language publication write:
Gerhard G. Herrling
Dues are 36 DM per year. If you send a check in US currency you will need to send about $45.00 at this time because of an outrageous fee to convert a U.S. check to DM.
For the English language society write:
Dues are £12 pounds in UK, £13 in the rest of the world, but if you send a US check add $25 (US) to cover the same outrageous fee as for Germany.
(These models are not for sale)
© 1998-2007 Ralph Preston
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