Miniature Treasures

March 12, 1993

Whether they are miraculously erected in bottles or displayed in glass vitrines, miniature ships are magical objects. Just think of the time, patience and craftsmanship invested in shaping and then assembling them.

The recently opened Gallery of Ships at the U.S. Naval Academy Museum in Annapolis boasts one of the best collections of miniature sailing vessels in the world. The gallery's dozens of treasures cover much of the age of naval warfare -- from a model of a 44-gun frigate, carved from bones by French prisoners during the Anglo-French Wars of 1756-1815, to modern United States battleships, faithful to such details as a helicopter pad and intricate radio and radar gear.

As the gallery exhibits so poignantly show, miniatures were made for different purposes by different people.

The 15 pieces crafted two centuries ago by prisoners from scrap bones probably were carved as much to break the boredom as to keep spirits alive.

Contrast these with scale models from the collection of Henry H. Rogers, an erstwhile Army colonel and wealthy industrialist, who became fascinated by vessels used in World War I. By the time of his death in 1935, he owned more than 100 miniature sailing vessels covering many other periods of maritime history.

"In many cases, the [models] were built absolutely to scale, so if someone from the Navy board wanted to see how the ship was going [during construction], he could look at the model," explained Kenneth J. Hagan, the museum director.

The miniature ships are just a small part of the museum on the grounds of the U.S. Naval Academy, which displays all kinds of memorabilia connected with academy alumni.

The current feature exhibit is a display of rings of various graduating classes.

Other major attractions include a collection of uniforms worn by Adm. Chester Nimitz; the surrender table and documents of the Japanese in World War II; artifacts and documents of Matthew C. Perry's mission to Japan and an exhibit on naval activities in the Civil War.

We urge residents of the region as well as Naval Academy visitors to discover and support this versatile museum. (The museum hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday).

If it weren't free, it would be worth a considerable admission fee.

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