Grown men often revert to being small boys when maritime antiques are being auctioned. Enthusiastic bidders quickly spark spirited competition if two or more of them fancy a particular scratch-built model yacht, or a ship’s compass, or a painting of a battleship.
Many antiques and collectables, such as furniture and china, go in and out of fashion. Mahogany sideboards and Royal Doulton plates, for example, are often worth less now than they were 20 years ago. But nautical antiques are perennially popular and they hold their value.
Men are usually the most ardent collectors. Could it be that collecting nautical bits and pieces is seen as a manly pursuit that no other male could consider a sissy or girlish hobby?
There is endless variety in the field. A collector might focus on paintings or models of ships, specialising in warships, merchant ships or passenger liners. Navigational instruments such as compasses, sextants and binnacles are popular. Old brass diving helmets and ships’ bells sell quickly. Early sailors carved and engraved the teeth of whales, creating an art form called scrimshaw. Others fashioned walking sticks and parasol handles from whalebone.
The whimsical collector might concentrate on model pond yachts, such as those sailed in Hyde Park in Edwardian times, or search out Victorian shell art. A genuine sailor’s Valentine – a shell mosaic in an octagonal glass-fronted wooden box, originally made in Barbados in the mid to late 1800s and sold as sentimental gifts for sailors to take home – is difficult to find in New Zealand. One appeared in a Webb’s auction recently and was expected to sell for up to $2500.
An easier collection to build might involve the menus from ships’ dining rooms. There are groups of people worldwide who delight in collecting such menus, especially vintage and antique menus featuring elaborate gourmet fare from early cruise ships.
English artist Frederick James Aldridge, who lived from 1850 to 1933, was an expert sailor as well as a prolific painter of boats and maritime scenes. The watercolour painting above (35 x 52cm) of an English fishing fleet and tugboat somehow made its way to New Zealand and is available at Cordy’s in Auckland for $1200. (09) 523 1049.
Painstakingly made from sheet metal, these table-sized models of famous warships are also available at Cordy’s for about $700 each. They are each around one and a half metres long and about 80cm high. The six models include the New Zealand warship Achilles and the famous German ship Admiral Graf Spee, which featured in the Battle of the River Plate.
This 1882 oil painting (60 x 90cm) is by a Welsh marine artist and is for sale at Watson’s Auctions, Christchurch. The auction estimate is $6000 to $10,000. (03) 366 0236, watsonsauctions.com.
At Foragers of Christchurch is this ship’s compass in a brass casing (known as a binnacle). On sale for $1495. (03) 379 7766, foragers.co.nz
These old lamps are for sale at Soucheby’s Antiques, Blenheim. The port and starboard lamps are $495 for the pair; the copper lamp is $380. (03) 579 6046.
Also at Foragers is this ship’s engine order telegraph (used to send instructions from bridge to engine room). Made in Glasgow, probably in the early 1900s; on sale for $3800.
The larger of these ships’ wheels was used in Peter Jackson’s movie King Kong, on the ship Venture. It is for sale at Soucheby’s for $2500; the smaller wheel is $395.
Story: Pam Neville
Photographs: Belinda Merrie
Stylist: Tracey Strange