Do You Know About Bone Models?

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Do you know about bone models? I only just learned about them yesterday.

No, they aren’t models of bones in the body (any body). And no, I don’t mean Kate Moss and Calista Flockhart.

Bone models are models – often of ships – which were carved by prisoners of war during, primarily, the revolutionary wars, out of the bones which came in their meals. We hope.

You see, often the people who signed on or were conscripted into the navies during those times were, by trade, skilled craftsmen. Who then spent ages as prisoners of war.

We learned about them yesterday from a docent at a model ship exhibit. When I got back, I researched them a bit, and sure enough!

Here is what the Royal Naval Museum in Portsmouth England has to say about bone models:

“Many of the prisoners were craftsmen and whiled their time away by carving models of ships, chessmen and other articles out of beef bones and used bedding straw to braid work-boxes and dinner mats. Many of the articles were fine pieces of work. These were offered for sale to sympathetic visitors and, from the money they obtained in this way, could supplement the hard prison life.”

And the United States Naval Academy, which boasts the largest collection of bone models in the world, explains that “The crafting of this type of model was characteristic of the period of the Anglo-French wars (1756-1815), and most of these works were produced during the Napoleonic conflicts. While not built to scale, these miniature vessels are every bit as thorough in their workmanship as their wooden counterparts. The Naval Academy’s bone model collection ranks as one of the largest in the world. The exhibit is a poignant, fascinating tribute to the skill of prisoners who were kept in deplorable conditions for years on end.”

I never knew, did you?

Here’s an example:

And the Dover Museum has a rather interesting bone model ship here.

There, I hope that you learned something today.

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