History of the NYYC's Model Collection

history12From a speech by Gregg K. Dietrich

I was honored when David Tunick, the chair of the Model Committee, asked me to speak about the collection. About three weeks ago I asked the librarian at NYYC to pull some information together for me on the collection, so I could add some anecdotes and details to my talk. Well, what I found were more questions and interesting facts about the model collection than I ever imagined.

These included details about the various models, the development of the model committee, and famous personages in the club's history. I also discovered information about people and models, which had been forgotten long ago.

More so than any other portion of the NYYC collection, represents the history of the NYYC. Further, it is a complete study of yachting in America from its origin, represented in a three-dimensional format. Models, unlike other mediums, are accessible to every viewer, models invite the viewer to study the piece and unlock the imagination.

The size of the collection, which numbers 151 full rigged models and approximately 1200 builders and half models, overwhelms even themost frequent visitor to the 44th street clubhouse. The models, with the exception of half a dozen of the full models are all built up solid hulls using the "lift" method of construction. The models are made from a variety of different woods with pine, basswood and linden being the most common. The models range in scale from 3/16" to 1" to the foot. Models are only as good as the sum of their parts, and as we look at the details and the care taken to create the scale pieces try to see how they are models unto themselves. The issue of model scale appears in a number of the model committee reports and several changes to the scale of the models were made during the history of the club as we will see.

The Origins & History of the Model Collection at NYYC 1844 - 1905

John Cox Stevens and a group of gentlemen who were interested in yachting founded the NYYC in 1844 on the schooner Gimcrack. There are two models of Gimcrack in the club's collection. Model #451 is the half model of Gimcrack built by Gustav Grahm in the accessioning program of 1904-5 and displayed on the wall of club flagships. Unfortunately, we do not have a photo of that half model. Thus we will start our slides with a full rigged presentation model of Gimcrack in the dining room. Boucher Mfg. Co. built this model in the 1930s. Gimcrack was a simple, older schooner with very full lines as this model clearly shows. Although, she is not the oldest yacht in the club's records, Gimcrack is a good model to use as a starting point.
gimcrack s
Gimcrack belonged to John Cox Stevens, first commodore of the NYYC.

In a meeting held in March of 1845 a set of rules governing the club were set down. This included rule #18 that stated "The model of each yacht shall be deposited with the recording secretary before she can enter for the regatta. The model shall be the property of the club." The purpose of this rule was not to form a collection but to have a systematic and accessible way of looking at the different yachts that were going to compete in club regattas. In essence they were using the models to develop a handicap system. The first committee who had to deal with the models included Edwin A. Stevens, George L. Schuyler and J. H. Graham. They were to "...measure the models of the yachts entering for the Regatta." In addition, "resolved, that all models be sent immediately to #35 Barcalay St. to be measured by the committee appointed for the purpose." In effect, this was the formation of what we now know as the Measurement Committee. Examples of these early models include model #4 Brenda a schooner built for David Sears, Jr. in 1845. The model was built by the designer Louis Winde in 1845 to 1/2" scale. Another example is model #7 of the schooner yacht Cygnet of 1844. The yacht was designed by George Steers after which he carved this model in 1/2" scale for the NYYC. It was unusual during this period for a builder's "style" model to be carved after the fact. This is an example of the confusion between builder's models and presentation models. Builder's models are those on which the lines of the yacht are based. A presentation model is built after the completion of the yacht for recording or historic purposes. The later are also known as "historic" models.

The Model Committee was officially formed in 1846 at the annual meeting at Astor House. It consisted of two members, Edwin A. Stevens and A. Foster. The purpose of the model committee was to take the lines off of member yachts while they were out of the water and record them in the form of a half model. The burden of the expense was to be born by the owner of each yacht measured. This was a continuation of an attempt to develop a handicap system. The idea of using the model to establish a handicap rating system was found to be "unsatisfactory," and the models were returned to the club to be displayed. Thus the beginning of the model collection. It was not unusual during this period for a yacht to be altered in the search for more speed and better handling. Since most of the yachts were built from models, and there were no line drawings, the changes to the yacht were often worked out on the original model. The planned alterations were worked out in the form of "basket work." There are several half models hanging on the west wall of the model room showing changes in the design on the original model. In particular, model #16 of the schooner yacht Breeze designed and built by James Bayles of Port Jefferson for L.G. Coles shows how drastic these alterations could be. Breeze was originally built in 1848 as was the accompanying 1/2" scale model. In the club records, there is a note that the yacht and the model were altered in 1851.