Historic Ship Models: Book Review

Someday, maybe, I’ll get around to finishing up the model of The Golden Hind. I was making some good progress on it, and then I just lost interest. I’m not that good at delayed gratification. As you may be able to tell from my activities on this blog, I like to get things done NOW.

I’m not proud of my attention deficit, but it’s mine, and it’s one of the few things that I can truly own. But that doesn’t keep me from dreaming. Just as I imagine I may one day own a huge model railway, I also dream of completing a ship model. Any ship model.

One day I was at Half Price Books and this particular book¬†jumped off the shelf at me. It’s Historic Ship Models¬†by a chap with a name worthy of a Hohenzollern– Wolfram zu Mondfeld. It’s an amazing thing, this book. It’s really a kind of miniature encyclopedia, complete with drawings showing just about every part of a sailing ship, and then some. I would imagine that if I knew something about ships, and studied this book, I might be able to build better models of them. Or one, anyway. Here’s a couple of images of pages chosen at random, just to give you some idea what we are talking about.

Page after page after page like this.

Stuff that I don’t even know what to call it. Stuff I wouldn’t recognize if a weary sailor dragged it into town and demanded I tell him what it was. He’d find a new home in my neck of the woods right there.

It’s an amazing book, full of all sorts of amazing insights into the construction of real, honest-to-goodness “from scratch” ship models of the type that don’t prompt laughter from serious people. You know–works of art.

So imagine my surprise when I came across a discussion of old Wolfram on a model ship forum, and the mention of this book did not elicit gushing praise. As a matter of fact, I got the distinct impression that the assembled worthies were holding their collective noses for some reason.

I won’t provide a link to the forum to protect the innocent and the guilty. But I will say that I learned on that day that there’s more, or there should be more, to writing a book about model ships than collecting your library, snipping out the best parts of the best books, then pasting it all together, putting your name on it, and selling it without a hi-dee-ho to the originators of the work.

In other words, questions of authorship hang heavily over this book, which was news to me because in the plastic model kit world we barely know that authors exist. We just assume that everything is provided by magical gnomes. Well, in the grown-up world of modelers of the sea, a bit more respect to the work of previous authors is generally expected. If you, um, “borrow” somebody’s work, you owe them a mention, and maybe some money.

I searched high and low for something resembling a list of sources in Historic Ship Models and I came up empty. Now, this is a book I like. I can read this stuff all day. “Cleats.” Who knew that was a thing? But when I use this book, as I just might, I will always feel a little funny about. If Wolfram zu Mondfeld drew all these drawings, gathered all this material from primary sources (like visiting the docks) and invented all this stuff, well, I say “good on him.”

But I doubt it.

It’s an amazing book. I just wish it weren’t so authentic that I smell something fishy.

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