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Home : Home : Warfare Centers : NSWC Carderock : Resources : Curator of Navy Ship Models : Questions and Answers
Questions and Answers

1. What types of models are in the collection?

The Department of the Navy Ship Model Collection is composed of primarily full, exhibition-type, scale models of U.S. naval vessels 1883 - present. Usually only the exterior is represented. This traditional type is popularly called a "builder's model." So-called builder's models are executed to a specific degree of scope and accuracy. They are made using the builder's plans of the real ship. Usually the models were made while the real ship was being designed and built. Navy models are made in fractional scales derived from the inch. Many are 1/4 inch to one foot scale (1/4" = 1' or 1:48) and 1/8 inch to one foot scale (1/8" = 1' or 1:96).

The smallest model in the collection is 1.5 inches (3.8cm) long, the largest is 345 inches (8.763m) long.

Other kinds of models represented in the collection include: designer's half-hull models, 1813-1960; World War II identification models in 1:250, 1:500, and 1:1200 scale; shipboard machinery space models; training models; drawing room design models; U.S. Marine Corps tracked vehicles, 1943 - present; and David Taylor Model Basin wind tunnel aircraft test models, ca. 1913-1949.

Associated with the shipbuilding community of the U.S. Navy, our collection has few models of naval aircraft, weapons, merchant ships, or foreign ships.

2. What is the scope of the collection?

The Navy began building models of new ships in 1883, so there are not many exhibition models pre-dating that time. After 1883, models were ordinarily constructed of one ship of each new class of warship. However, the class had to be deemed a significant engineering departure from its predecessors. For a variety of reasons, some classes of ships were never modelled. On the other hand, in addition to experimental craft, our collection does have a number of models representing ships that were never built.

3. What is the range of the collection?

The official Department of the Navy model collection does not include every model the Navy owns. Several Navy museums borrow Navy Department models and also maintain their own collection. Here is a partial list of Navy museums that have separate model collections:

The Navy Museum 
901 M Street S.E.
Washington, DC 20374-5060  

Naval Academy Museum
118 Maryland Avenue
Annapolis, MD 21402

National Naval Aviation Museum
Naval Air Station
Pensacola, FL 32508

Nautilus Memorial, Library & Museum
Naval Submarine Base
Groton, CT 06349

Hampton Roads Naval Museum
1 Waterside Mall
Norfolk, VA

Naval War College Museum
Newport, RI 02840

Naval Undersea Museum
Keyport, WA 98345

4. What was the original purpose of the collection's models?

Most of the models in the Navy Department collection were made as visual aids to help people understand what a new ship would look like. These are called exhibition models. When a warship was designed, several types of models were also made to test different characteristics

5. What are the major model materials?

Official Navy models are mostly "scratch-built" from wood and metal. Big portions of the model, like the hull and superstructure, are usually made from large pieces of pine, mahogany, or basswood. Smaller parts are made from aircraft plywood, brass, and copper. Plastic is rarely used. Parts are silver-soldered or attached together using screws, metal pins, and epoxy, white, or hide glues. Materials that last a long time and resist decay and corrosion are preferred. More information is available about model-building materials.

6. What are model builders?

Today, Navy models are made under contract by professional model building firms. The Navy's Bureau of Construction and Repair made all of its models in-house until about 1910. From about 1910 until 1980 exhibition models were made for the Navy in naval and commercial ship yard model shops. With the general disappearance of ship yard model shops, almost all Navy models are now made by contract model builders. Our staff is able to make exhibition models under special circumstances.

7. Where are models of old ships made?

We occasionally make models of ships pre-dating 1883 for research, to fill in gaps in the collection, or to experiment with model conservation techniques. Navy museums sometimes independently commission models of older ships in order to enhance a particular exhibit. For a related answer, see also "Range of the Collection".

8. What models are made by the Gibbs and Cox Company?

The Gibbs & Cox Company, a ship design firm, maintained an extensive model workshop adjacent to their offices in New York City. Between about 1939 and 1962 their model shop made a limited number of models, primarily of ships. The U.S. Navy commissioned about 20 major models of its latest warships. Most of the models were ordered during World War II, but were not completed until after the war.

Some model builders and curators believe that Gibbs & Cox models are, arguably, the very finest examples of the steel ship modelers art ever to be seen. The United States Navy is very proud to own most of the exhibition ship models made by Gibbs & Cox.

This alphabetical listing includes only the first-class Gibbs & Cox models in the Navy collection. The collection also has many Gibbs & Cox half-hull plating models, machinery space models, demonstration models, and drawing room models.

Drawing room models usually depicted the ship from the waterline upward and represented only major elements on the exterior of the ship. Drawing room models were used as tools during the ship design process. They were usually not painted in colors and were subject to alterations as the design progressed.

Display locations are subject to change.

U.S. Navy Ship Models built by Gibbs & Cox Company

9. How do you buy, sell, donate and dispose of a model?

Buying models: Our office commissions models to be built of modern U.S. Navy ships. These models must be built to our specifications. Price quotes and schedules are asked of several qualified model building firms and our purchasing department usually awards the purchase order to qualified vendor offering the lowest price and the best delivery schedule. If you are a professional model builder and wish to be contacted regarding Navy ship model building commissions, please contact our office.

Selling models: As a component of the federal government, the U.S. Navy does not sell or repair models for the public. Official models are never sold, auctioned, or given away.

Donating models: Occasionally our office accepts models donated by the public to the collection from the public. The model must fill a need within the collection, conform to the general scope of the collection, and be of reasonable quality and durability. Donations must be without restriction. Therefore, the Curator may chose to display the donation, place the item in storage, trade the item, or dispose of the donation at any time. The Office of the Curator of Ship Models does not provide monetary appraisals of ship models and cannot advise anyone regarding the tax implications of charitable donations. Monetary appraisals of ships models is referenced elsewhere in our web site. If you are interested in donating a model to the collection, please contact us.


10. How do you loan models?

Available Navy ship models may be temporarily loaned to federal agencies; state and local governmental activities; and qualifying, established, non-profit and public educational institutions under special agreements. Models cannot be loaned to individuals, profit-making enterprises, or to ship reunions.

If you are a qualifying institution and are interested in learning more about the ship model loan process and requirements, please contact:

11. How do I learn about a particular model?

To find out if the Navy collection has a model of a particular ship, please write to us:

12.  How do I get a copy of: Fouled Anchors: The 'Constellation' Question Answered?  

In 1991 our office wrote a technical report finding that the ship Constellation displayed in Baltimore was not a frigate of 1797, but a sloop-of-war built in 1853. Copies of our 200 page report, Fouled Anchors: The Constellation Question Answered (1991) can be obtained for a fee through the Department of Commerce, National Technical Information Service, 5825 Port Royal Road, Springfield VA 94942; (703)487-4650. Ask for report AD A241-916. A PDF version of the report and some related articles can be downloaded from the following links: 

13. Can I visit the curator of Navy ship models?

The David Taylor Model Basin is part of the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division Headquarters, located in West Bethesda, Maryland. Because security classified tests of modern naval ship designs are frequently performed, the Center is not accessible for casual, general visiting.

Those wishing to tour the Carderock’s West Bethesda site, see site information here: Contact for more information.

Those wishing to visit only the exhibition ship model unit should schedule an appointment with the Curator at 301-227-1140. Visitors are welcome, workload permitting. Scheduled visits are subject to cancelation due to facility requirements.

14. What if I am a ship model building hobbyist?

There are a number of American and foreign periodicals available about ship model building and your local library can help you find them. There are many local ship model building clubs and several regional groups of specialized ship model associations.

For more information about clubs contact the Secretary, Nautical Research Guild.

15.  How do you repair ship models?

To avoid shipping problems, you will probably want to have your model repaired locally. Check with a local hobby shop for ship model builders in your area or contact the Secretary, Nautical Research Guild.

16. How do you appraise ship models?

As an agency of the federal government, our office does not provide for the public monetary appraisals of ship models.  

17. What ship models are in the collection?

Key to Model Types

EXH - Exhibition Models. Museum-style display models. Quality varies
DRA - Drawing room models. Waterline models depicting only major superstructure & deck features. Little detail. Used for reference by Bureau of Ships designers during WWII.
HAL - Half hull models
REC - Recognition models. Small-scale waterline models formerly used for learning ship identification. Usually factory-made and not highly detailed.
TEC - Technical models made for test purposes
MOD_LEN is the length of the model in inches

List of Models

Please understand that the Office of the Curator of Ship Models is not a museum. Other than small recognition and half hull models, relatively few major models are located at Bethesda. Most are loaned out to other institutions. For more information about individual models, please email the Curator of Ship Models at


A good place to start looking for ships plans is the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Record Group 19:

The official history and photos  of most U.S. naval vessels can be found at:

18. What does "museum quality" mean?

The term "museum quality" is sometimes used to describe a model which, in the speaker's opinion, is an example of superior work. "Museum quality" is a subjective appraisal with no official definition within the museum community.

19. About plastic model kits

Regardless of the materials from which they are made, model kits are a good way to learn about maritime history, ships, ship construction, to develop skills, and to have fun. Every member of our staff built model kits in his youth. We encourage you to contact a local hobby shop or surf the web to find out more about model kits of all types.

Some sites of interest related to plastic model ship model building include:

International Plastic Modelers' Society (IPMS)
Nautical Research Guild