We have dozens of ships in bottles in our collections at the Maritime Museum but the majority of them come from one source, a gentleman who collected and made these fabulous objects, Arthur George Maltravers ('Jo') Dashwood-Howard. It was one of his own creations that particularly caught my eye, a ship-in-a-bottle-maker in a bottle.
Close up of the miniature model maker.
In this beautiful object we can see a little man sat at a table in a workshop, a tiny ship in bottle being worked on in front of him and a larger ship model on the workshop floor. If you look very closely, there’s even a tiny ditty bag bearing the initials ADH (Arthur Dashwood Howard), suggesting that the model is in fact a wonderfully unusual form of self-portrait. Dashwood-Howard has used his skill to portray himself at work on one of his wonderful miniature creations.
It was the little ditty bag though that determined me to have the model on display. We already had a case in our Lifelines gallery devoted to the Dashwood-Howard collection, and on display in that case was Dashwood-Howard's actual ditty bag (used to hold his model-making tools) with ADH on it. The link between the objects, and the charming nature of the model, was too much to resist.
Close up of tiny model of Dashwood-Howard's ditty bag within the bottle, bearing his initials.
Ships in bottles are historically a quite common form of sailor’s handicrafts. Dashwood-Howard was himself a seafarer and you can also see on display an example of his embroidered woolwork, another traditional seafarer’s craft. Handicrafts like this helped to pass time on long voyages and also to supplement seafarer’s wages.
A more novel use of them however was recounted to some of us here at the museum by a past member of staff. Des Newton was an accomplished craftsman who made ships in bottles for our displays and gave popular demonstrations to our visitors. Des sadly died a number of years ago, but one of the anecdotes that colleagues remember him telling was of pubs on the dock road in Liverpool having signs up reading ‘No Ships in Bottles’. Apparently thirsty sailors would try to trade their handicrafts for alcohol.
You see this lovely example of the ship in bottle craft in our Lifelines gallery along with many other examples of seafarer’s handiwork, including embroideries, ropework, and scrimshaw.
Lead image © Pete Carr