A Brief History of the Hobby
The earliest waterline models in constant scale date back almost to the turn of the century. Fred T. Jane created and marketed a fleet of small waterline ships for use in his war game which he created and sold commercially beginning around 1904. These models were smaller than 1:1200 and were very crude by today’s standards, but did attempt to represent actual ships of various navies of the time, thus setting a standard for uniform scale waterline models.
During World War I, several companies made wood identification models for use in training naval observers, the most famous of thse being the British model making firm of Bassett-Lowke. Bassett-Lowke continued to make wood models until the 1950's. The company’s mainstay were large models for specific shipping lines and ship builders, but the company also continued making 1:1200 waterline models for sale to the general public, and during World War II again made wood ID models for the Admiralty. An excellent source of information about these models is BASSETT-LOWKE WATERLINE SHIP MODELS by Derek Head, New Cavendish Books Ltd., 1996
In the late 1920's Wiking of Germany began producing metal ship models in 1:1250 scale. 1250 was used because of metrics. Wiking quickly became the leader in the field producing models of many contemporary warships and merchant ships. World War II eventually put the company out of business, though it did go through a revival in the 1950's. An excellent source of information about these models is WIKING MODELLE, by Peter Schonfeldt, Koehlers Verslagesellschaft mbH, Hamburg, Germany, 1998
The situation in Germany in the 1930's caused some of the model makers at Wiking to emigrate. One went to Britain where he used his skill to start TreForest Moulding, known as TreMo. Others may have gone to the United States. Around 1940 several were in business there. In 1941 Bessarabis, whose owner is believed to have come from Romania produced models of U.S. ships, including some rather rare auxiliary ships such as MEDUSA, NITRO and CANOPUS for the U.S. military. But when they failed to meet the U.S. Navy’s contractual requirements, the
contract was pulled. In the meantime, two brothers, Joseph and Abraham had started Comet Metal Products. The brothers gained a Navy contract to produce ID models when the U.S. U.S. entered the war. This began a 20 year career of producing ship models in 1:1200 scale. Comet also used the name Authenticast Ltd. on its boxes and catalogs. The line included all the major navies of the world. During the war Comet copied many models by Wiking and Tre-Mo, although the military rejected these for identification training. Another model company, South Salem also produced identification models, although now where near as many as Comet did. South Salem is notable for having produced a substantial line of Japanese merchant ships for Navy and Air Corps training purposes. After South Salem went out of business, Comet issued some of these models under generic names such as "Large transport" etc. however, Comet never did not reproduce any of the warships from South Salem, many of which, such as AGANO, TERUTSUKI, MIKURA, NEVADA (1943) and PENNSYLVANIA (1943) were quite unique.
Also during World War II, another company, H.A. Framburg of Chicago, Ill., obtained a government contract to produce ID models. Framburg was a producer of decorative lamps and light fixtures. But when the war came, the copper, brass and other metals used to make these products became strategic materials and unavailable except for war material. Like so many other companies, Framburg had to adapt to the situation. So Framburg sought and obtained a government contract to make recognition models of U.S., British and French ships. 64 different ships were produced starting in 1943 and reflected the situation at the time. Ships were represented in 1943 rig, especially the few different French ships. While the detail on these models was far from the crisp, clean work we see in today’s models, nevertheless, Framburgs remain some of the most anatomically accurate models ever made.
After the war, Framburg reverted to production of lamps, but Comet continued to produce ship models, tanks, planes, and model railroad parts. Comet also produced post war ID models of some Soviet and U.S. ships. But in the 1950's the U.S. government gave up models as a means of recognition training, and Comet concentrated on the hobby market. In 1962, the last of the Slonim brothers died, and that brought Comet to an end.
Several collectors managed to buy the moulds and began producing under the name Superior. The models were marketed by one of them under the Alnavco label. At first the group sought to improve the line, producing a number of new models, and trimming the line to the better models. Superior also cast off a number of Comets in favor of copying the better Framburg models. But in late 60's Superior came under the control of one person, whose focus became the war game industry, whose primary needs are cheap sturdy models. The line shrank, and quality suffered. When the owner of Superior decided to retire, he sold the moulds to Alnavco, which hopes to refocus the line on more collector quality models.
After World War II, the hobby languished in Germany and Britain. Wiking, and Tre-Mo were put out of business by the war, and Germans in the late 1940's and early '50's were focused on survival and rebuilding of their country. Ship models were unattainable luxuries. But the revival of the German economy in the 1950's allowed the rebith of the hobby market, and Wiking resumed production, reproducing some of its pre-war models, as well as new ones in both plastic and metal. In the late 1950's a new company, Hansa, commenced production of a line of models, in 1:1250 scale. In Britain about the same time, Triang, a producer of toys and model trains produced a line of metal ships, which in the case of their warships, were more notable for their toy like quality than anything else, but because of their wide distribution and availability, gave many a young collector their first introduction to the hobby.
The real renaissance in the hobby, however, occurred in the mid to late 1960's with the inauguration of production by companies like Mercator, Trident, Delphin, Star, Hai, and in particular Navis/Neptun, which became, and remains, the largest producer of high quality 1:1250 scale models, and which set a standard by which all other models tend to be judged.
In the 1980's and into the present the hobby has continued to expand, with still more producers such as Rhenania, Albatros, CM, Argos, and others proliferating. Today, the hobby is bigger than ever before, with models of thousands of different ships available. Germany remains the center of 1:1250 ship model production and collecting. Some models are produced in Britain, Japan, France and the U.S., but these are lines are small in comparison to German production.
More different ship models have been produced in these two scales than in any other scale, possibly more than in all other scales combined.
How They Make the Models
Until the 1960's models were made in metal moulds which used a centrifugal casting process. This is a fairly typical way to cast metal parts. The metal or hard rubber mould fits together top and bottom like two plates. Inside the shapes of the parts are carved out. Molten lead or alloy is poured into the mould, the mould is spun and the liquid metal fills the voids. When the metal hardens the two plates are separated and the parts can be taken out. The parts are usually attached to sprues or small metal sticks which are the result of the channels which must be carved out to allow the metal to flow into the spaces in the mould. When you see a model that is built from various parts, and has a thin centerline line from stem to stern, you are probably looking at a model cast in that fashion. Delphin, Hansa and Star models were cast that way, as were Comet and Framburgs.
In the 1960's companies like Neptun/Navis began making their models in single castings using thin latex rubber moulds. Today the technique is almost universal, and accounts for the exceptional quality of detail, which could never be achieved by the use of centrifugal casting.
Lead was commonly used in the past, but as it is now recognized as a toxic substance, it is not legal to use in the U.S. and is used in only limited quantities in Europe. A mixture of various alloys including tin are used today, and are actually preferable to lead, since the softer alloys make it easier to cast the more complex models that are typical of the hobby today.
The Model Makers
There are a relatively few companies that produce these models. The majority are in Europe, and most of those in Germany. Some of the manufacturers, like Neptun/Navis, and Hansa are quite large, have their own small factories and their models are in fairly constant production. There are, however, many small makers who work out of little home workshops, and produce limited numbers of models.