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USS Constitution colors- CAUTION- LONG DISCUSSION!!

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  • Member since
    December, 2002
USS Constitution colors- CAUTION- LONG DISCUSSION!!
Posted by lenroberto on Friday, February 20, 2004 7:06 AM
Just started the Revell 1/96 Connie- reading the fine book A MOST FORTUNATE SHIP as well. I know the ship changed appearances and colors many times through her career so being "accurate" is a frustrating impossibility. However- in trying to come up with a general representative paint scheme of her heyday (1798-1815)- the Revell instructions seem greatly at odds with current research. And using the ship as she appears currently is no help to portraying her as she was in her first 20 years...Please take a long look at this and my questions follow- hopefully a good discussion will follow and I trust in the knowledge of many on this board:

Constitution Colors- A Ray Morton Study
Date: 1999/03/22 18:41
From: "Clayton A. Feldman, MD" <clayfeld@best.com>
Well, Listees- this is your lucky day if you're interested in "Old
Ironsides". Here's some data from our Constitution guru, Ray Morton, on her
paint colors.
Clay
Clayton A. Feldman MD
List Owner/ Manager
From: Ray Morton <raymorton@earthlink.net>
Subject: *Constitution-s* Colors
The question often arises, *How was **Constitution** painted?* The
answers seem to be varied and they seldom seem to match primary
documentation. Here is what is known at this writing to me to be the
best color information for *Constitution* for only some of her
configurations and time periods:
In her early years, *Constitution* was always tarred below the four gun
strakes, probably until the 1906 overhaul. As-built in 1797 through
1811, she had yellow ochre (50:50 with white lead -- still a
brownish-yellow but not as dull) gun strakes, gun tompions, gallery
trim, bowsprit, and lower masts as well as two pin stripes leading aft
along the hull from the head rails. The stern had a lampblack ground
with white lead, vermilion, medium-light blue, and light yellow ochre
trim. The ship-s name is not on the stern in 1812 (see Captain Hull-s
model of September 1812 at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem,
Massachusetts). The weather rails were lampblack for all periods. ONLY
the four one-inch recessed gun strakes received the contrasting color --
NEVER a broad band of color that I have ever been able to document. The
gun strakes were white lead from 1811 through 1815 off and on with
yellow ochre (to include a change in the color of the quarter gallery
trim and, likely, the gun tompions) and were yellow ochre again from
1815 until the 1817 overhaul when the US Navy was changing to uniform
white lead gun strakes in almost all its ships, to include white lead
inner bulwarks and waterways from about 1817 as well.
>From July 1844 through 14 May 1845, *Constitution* had a white lead hull
with vermilion gun strakes. In May 1845, she was repainted the white on
black color scheme. Her configuraton at that time was very close to the
*Brandywine* first class frigates, especially her bow treatment.
The gun port lids were always lampblack on all six surfaces (an
exception might have been the vermilion gun strake period, though I
doubt it). The gun deck gun port lids were NOT hinged until about the
American Civil War but, prior to that time, were completely removed and
sent below when exercising the gun deck guns -- no gun port lids were
provided in the spar deck, ever. The gun deck gun port lids were split
in half horizontally in 1804 but were still NOT hinged, with some minor
exceptions to this up forward.
The Bowsprit and lower masts were woolded until 1809 and the woolding
was lampblack (rigging tarred). Until 1809 the fighting tops and the
doublings were lampblack. ALL of the yards were blackened (coal
tarred), just like the bends -- to include the yard arms -- as well as
the lower studding-sail booms, spanker boom, and gaff. After 1809, the
fighting tops (except for their railings and stanchions) and the
doublings were white lead. There was NO white at the mast heads/trucks.
The upper masts were left bright (actually oiled) so that their
remaining strength could be determined from their color. Since upper
masts were replaced often, they would each be a different color from
each of the other upper mast spars. The same is true for the jib boom
and the flying jib boom. Until 1809, *Constitution* had a single
lampblack martingale -- and a white lead double dolphin striker after
1809. The doublings for the jib spars were lampblack until 1809 when
they were painted white lead. The sails were also replaced and patched,
as was the rigging, and none of these items would have been an overall
same color nor exactly match any of their sister components.
The rigging included hemp, hide, and flax cordage (plus horsehair in the
limber) and was one-stranded through six-stranded, plus the
nine-stranded cables and hawsers. Both left-handed and right-handed
rope was used as well as water-laid and plain-laid. Some ropes were
reverse-laid and others were slack-laid -- at least one case combines
both slack/reverse-laid. I know that this opens many rigging questions
but the answers would be about 700 to 1000 pages long with a few hundred
drawings. *Constitution* followed Brady-s *Kedge Anchor*, AMERICAN
rigging practice, and NOT Lever, Steele, Biddlecomb, Lees, Lavry, et
al., which describe BRITISH rigging practice.
The decks exposed to the weather would have been grayed to a depth much
beyond just surface discoloration -- holy stoning would NOT normally
have removed enough wood to make the decks *white*. The idea of holy
stoning was to remove only the dirt and rigging tar from the deck -- not
the wood. The gun and spar decks were longleaf yellow pine, except
under the guns where they were white oak. The two woods weather in
color differently. The tarring of the deck paying was most likely dark
chocolate brown and NOT black.
After 1809, the upper studding-sail booms were lampblack (probably
tar-blackened) from the tip of the yard arm outboard, when housed, and
from the tip of the yardarm inboard, when extended. The in-between
portion was white lead. Prior to 1809, the upper studding-sail booms
appear to have been completely blackened. The spanker boom was white
lead outboard the taffrail and black inboard after 1809 and all black
before 1809 -- the gaff was always black. After about 1809, a mizzen
trysail (or snow) mast was installed, which was white lead.
Gun carriages were *terra cotta* (the brownish boxcar red) except for
1804-1809 when the carriages were *yellow the color of butter* with
lampblack gun tubes, iron fittings, and trucks. After 1845, or so, many
of the gun carriages were lampblack and all were most likely lampblack
upon entering the American Civil War era and afterwards.
Of the 500+ individual guns that have been in *Constitution*, of
fifty-one different types, they were all smooth to the touch except for
one type, which I have yet to see modeled. They had a modified varnish
coating that produced a satin-gloss (satin for a model) that was
pigmented with lampblack. The guns were normally given a fresh water
wash each morning and then rubbed down with an oily rag. Tompions
normally matched the gun strake color and were not embellished with
gawdy stars, etc. *Constitution* was, and is, a warship -- NOT a circus
float...!
The spar deck inner bulkhead (only a quarter deck and forecastle with an
open waist until about 1804 or 1809 -- no spar deck, per se, until that
time) arguably was vermilion as well as the waterway (a red-orange
scarlet color, just like the British used -- but NEVER a *red*) as the
gun sills are known to have been vermilion from 1797-1804. 1804-1809
the sills appear to have been lampblack from then on and the inner
bulkhead and waterway butter-yellow. After 1809, the inner bulkhead and
waterway were dark green (about that of Humbrol #149, which needs to be
scaled and weathered) still retaining the lampblack gun port sills.
After 1817, the inner bulkhead and waterway were, most likely, white
lead with lampblack gun port sills.
Deck furniture was likely white lead, with bright pin rails, as-built --
and butter-yellow or dark green to match the changes in the inner
bulwark-s color changes between 1804 and 1817. I have not yet
determined the deck furniture color after the 1817 overhaul from primary
documentation. Belaying pins were iron and, if painted, would likely
have been hot coal tarred.
Ship-s small boats were overall white lead externally, except they were
lampblack between about 1835 and 1845. The black paint did not work
well at all on the ship-s small boats and was replaced with white lead
about 1845 throughout the US Navy. The white boats typically had a
single distinguishing color on the sheer strake. Ship-s small boat
painting is, indeed, a very large subject area by itself.
A good color approximation of the red and the blue in the wool ensigns,
pennants, and flags for *Constitution* is: Humbrol #153 with a slight
amount of Humbrol #73 *wine* added for the *Madder Root Red* and Humbrol
#104 made a little lighter (with a touch of Humbrol #34 *white*) and a
bit grayer for the *Indigo Blue* -- until about World War One when
bright synthetic dyestuffs started being used in US Navy flags. The
white in flags was undyed white wool -- an off-white color (a touch of
Humbrol #71 *linen* in Humbrol #34 seems to work well). Other flag
colors and flags for *Constitution* are much larger subjects.
Try to avoid using straight black and straight white in a model -- they
are too stark for scale work and render a toy-like appearance. Use a
very dark gray and an off-white (antique white), respectively.
Don-t use the present real *Constitution* to determine the
configuration, or painting, of the historic *Constitution* for ANY
historic period, except 1932, 1960, 1976, or 1996, if then. Presently,
the real *Constitution* is NOT in a War of 1812 configuration as federal
law mandates -- she-s slowly on her way towards such a configuration,
assuming she quits stumbling over the non-1812 fantasized overhaul
configuration of 1932.
If anyone has information contrary to what has been presented here from
PRIMARY documentation (official US Navy documents, journal entries of
*Constitution* crew members only writing about what was occurring that
day, etc. -- but NOT ANYTHING from the 160+ books on *Constitution* as I
have read and own ALL of them and they are mostly incorrect on the
technical issues and all of them seem to quote the same erroneous 1817
British author without the benefit of research or checking of facts), I
would appreciate the EXACT CITATION of such contrary information down to
the page number and library/archive/museum call number, address, and
phone number.
I am in the process of finishing several books on the Age of Sail,
mostly about *Constitution*. The incomplete and brief information
presented here is extracted from those books and is copyrighted by me.
This information will be expanded somewhat in my upcoming three-part
article on *Building a Better Model of Constitution* for the Nautical
Research Journal starting with the Fall-or-Winter 1999 issue. I am
giving permission to Dr. Clay Feldman that this information can be
posted on the Ships-in-Scale web site for personal use only.
Regards,
Ray Morton

Quite a lot of info to digest. OK my questions:

1. Gun port stripe- leaning towards Camo grey - a very light pale grey that is a good scale white. Any thoughts?
2. Gun port lids- leave them off? Seems like they were only closed during heavy weather and stored for ventilation and in action. So it would not be "incorrect" to leave them off? Saves a lot of time too...thoughts?
3. Can someone enlighten me as to what tompions and strakes are? Mr. Morton calls for yellow ochre...
4. Stern decoration. Revell instructions call for red, gold, and white- I was leaning towards mostly white with gold stars...advice?
5. Inner bulwarks dark green instead of white- pretty firm on this.
6. Mast colors he discusses above confuse me and are completely different than Revell instructions. ???


I know this is a lot to ask but any help from those who have built or are building will be appreciated. There is no right or wrong just trying to formulate how I'd like to portray this great model.

Thanks!

Len

or email me off board: lrobertojr@aol.com
  • Member since
    January, 2003
Posted by Jeff Herne on Friday, February 20, 2004 9:39 PM
Good Grief Len!!!

My eyes are bleeding!!

I have a good friend who built a LARGE model of the Constitution, the man is a true expert on the ship. I'll print your questions and get them in front of him.

J
  • Member since
    November, 2005
Posted by Anonymous on Saturday, February 21, 2004 12:59 PM
I actually just visited the Constitution this morning. The museum there is currently displaying a number of nice amateur models of various ships. There are several large models of Constitution & paintings in the museum's collection. The one thing they all have in common is that they are all different.

The gun port lids appear to have been used in 2 configurations. In one, they were removed and stored inside. Several paintings in the museum showed the ship without any port lids on her. In the other configuration, the lids were open and hinged top & bottom on the exterior. When closed, the cannon poke through a hole in the center of each lid.

I'm just at the point in building mine where I think I will not install lids, though that means I should probably fill & sand the small hinge slots in the side of the hull.

I painted the bulwarks white on my model; different models in the museum had either white or green. The ship currently has dark green.

Stern decorations I saw were all white. On my model, I did use gold stars & piping on the stern.
  • Member since
    December, 2002
Posted by lenroberto on Saturday, February 21, 2004 1:03 PM
thanks guys- appreciate your replies...

Len
  • Member since
    November, 2005
Posted by Anonymous on Sunday, February 22, 2004 1:49 PM
>3. Can someone enlighten me as to what tompions and strakes are? Mr. Morton calls for yellow ochre...

I think that should be tampions -- they are the plugs placed in the end of the gun barrels to keep the gunk out. Since the cannon weren't moved inboard of the gun port lids, the open ends would be exposed to the elements if not for the tampions. You'll have to fashion your own if you want to use them in your model.

A strake is a continuous line of planking running from bow to stern.

- Jim
  • Member since
    December, 2002
Posted by lenroberto on Monday, February 23, 2004 6:53 AM
These pics are of the kit built by my uncle in 1970- he built it following Revell's instructions exactly- it is just magnificent:





I am well on my way and hope mine comes out half as good as my Uncle's did!

Len

Thanks for everyone's comments.
  • Member since
    July, 2003
  • From: USA
Posted by 72cuda on Monday, February 23, 2004 8:51 PM
Great job & Thanks for the info on the Old Ironsides, I need it I'm doing one in 1/96 scale & 1/120 scale but thinking on making her the USS US or President but wanted more info, again where did you get those website I've been hunting for a site with that info, Thanks again

84 of 795 1/72 Aircraft Competed for Lackland's Airman Heritage Museum

Was a Hawg Jet Fixer, now I'm a FRED Fixer   

 'Cuda

  • Member since
    November, 2005
Posted by Anonymous on Friday, February 27, 2004 11:11 AM
So, how about this:

"The tarring of the deck paying was most likely dark
chocolate brown and NOT black. "

So, does anyone know what "deck paying" is? I've searched through my library of ship building books, but I have NO idea what that is!

-jonathan
  • Member since
    January, 2007
Posted by peterj on Tuesday, January 16, 2007 12:35 PM

I am just starting on the 1/96 Revell kit, and have found a ton of useful posts here.  Thanks to everyone who has posted!

 In the first posting above, Ray writes:

 


This information will be expanded somewhat in my upcoming three-part
article on *Building a Better Model of Constitution* for the Nautical
Research Journal starting with the Fall-or-Winter 1999 issue. I am
giving permission to Dr. Clay Feldman that this information can be
posted on the Ships-in-Scale web site for personal use only.
Regards,
Ray Morton  

 


I have looked at the Ships in Scale website, at http://www.seaways.com/, but I cannot find the article.  Am I looking in the right place?

Thanks!

 

Peter 

  • Member since
    November, 2005
Posted by Anonymous on Tuesday, January 16, 2007 5:54 PM

There is another web site that some may find interesting. It is from the US Navy and the URL is http://www.history.navy.mil/docs/war1812/const5.htm. This particular page has the long account of Hull's action with the Guerriere and Capt. Dacres' report on the loss of the vessel to his superior, Vice Adm. Sawyer. It is interesting that Capt. Dacres states that the Constitution had 24 32 pounders and 2 18 pounders on the spar deck. Other sources have only one 18 pounder chase gun on the deck.

I too am attempting a 1/96 Constitution. I would like it to represent the period of the Guerriere fight. To that end, I am enclosing the forward port (bridal port) as that was not cut until about 3 weeks after the battle by Bainbridge as he was repairing the vessel to sail under his command. And I plan to have two additional 32 pounders on the forecastle. Apart from that, there few physical changes I plan to make.

The selection of the appearance at the Guerriere battle was easy for me. In that battle, the stern was much shot up. Given that Bainbridge took only to months to repair and replenish the vessel, it is likely that he did not have his carpenters spend much time on the details of the stern decoration. Whatever it looked like, it probably did not look like the one supplied with the kit.

After all, Bainbridge had more important things to do, like stepping new masts and completely rerigging the vessel along with reprovisioning the ship. It seems that the transome supplied with the kit would most closely resemble the appearance of the Gurriere fight.

By the time Stewart had his battle, gun ports were permantly cut into the stern. I just don't have the skill, time or patience to completely scratch build the stern. Besides, he had the vessel equipped with two "shifting gunnades", whatever they looked like.

The comments on the painting are very valuable and I will be using them.

  • Member since
    December, 2002
  • From: Derry, New Hampshire, USA
Posted by rcboater on Wednesday, January 17, 2007 7:17 PM

That is the caulking between the deck planks.  Modelers typically use black for this, but I agree that dark brown makes more sense.  I'll be using that color on mine.....

 

Webmaster, IPMS Patriot Chapter  www.ipmspatriot.org

Billerica, MA

 

  • Member since
    December, 2002
  • From: Derry, New Hampshire, USA
Posted by rcboater on Wednesday, January 17, 2007 7:43 PM

 lenroberto wrote:
Just started the Revell 1/96 Connie- reading the fine book A MOST FORTUNATE SHIP as well. I know the ship changed appearances and colors many times through her career so being "accurate" is a frustrating impossibility. However- in trying to come up with a general representative paint scheme of her heyday (1798-1815)- the Revell instructions seem greatly at odds with current research. And using the ship as she appears currently is no help to portraying her as she was in her first 20 years...Please take a long look at this and my questions follow- hopefully a good discussion will follow and I trust in the knowledge of many on this board:
<Ray Morton's excellent post snipped>


Quite a lot of info to digest. OK my questions:

1. Gun port stripe- leaning towards Camo grey - a very light pale grey that is a good scale white. Any thoughts?
2. Gun port lids- leave them off? Seems like they were only closed during heavy weather and stored for ventilation and in action. So it would not be "incorrect" to leave them off? Saves a lot of time too...thoughts?
3. Can someone enlighten me as to what tompions and strakes are? Mr. Morton calls for yellow ochre...
4. Stern decoration. Revell instructions call for red, gold, and white- I was leaning towards mostly white with gold stars...advice?
5. Inner bulwarks dark green instead of white- pretty firm on this.
6. Mast colors he discusses above confuse me and are completely different than Revell instructions. ???


I know this is a lot to ask but any help from those who have built or are building will be appreciated. There is no right or wrong just trying to formulate how I'd like to portray this great model.

Thanks!

Len

 

Len,

 

I have saved Ray Morton's post ever since it first appeared on the SIS list.  I think it is invaluable, as his research is based on primary source documents.  To your questions:

The light gray would work, I guess-- I'm leaning towards  yellow ochre myself, but may settle on antique white.  

I'm going to leave the gun ports off.

Haven't thought about the stern decorations yet....not sure what to do here. but I like your idea.  

No argument on the dark green inner bulwarks.

I think a reason the mast colors seem confusing is that you have more than one scheme during the time period you chose.  You'll need to pick a year, then things will make a little more sense.

Prior to 1809:  

Lower masts, bowsprit,tops, yards, fighting tops, studding sail booms:  lampblack

Upper masts:  oiled wood

After 1809:  change the tops, the doublings on the jib boom, dolphin striker,  to white.  The spanker boom and studdingsail booms change to black/white instead of all black.

The problem with Ray's post are the unanswered questions.   For example, he says things like "prior to 1809, the lower masts were lampblack."  But what about after 1809, when the wooldings were removed? What color then?  black or white?  (I'll have to look through Ty Martin's book again....)

 I've never seen a follow-up post to the original, but I'm not an NRG member, so I don't know if the promised article was ever published....

Keep in mind that the Revell painting instructions were written about 40 years ago, so I wouldn't put a lot of stock in them.  

-Bill

P.S.  Someone mentioned a trip to the museum-- however, I think that, to a large degree, that is irrelevant to your questions.  The config and colors today are not "right" for 1812, and with all the new research coming to light, I wouldn't trust any model made more than 20 minutes ago....with one exception-- the "Hull" model, made in the Peabody Essex Museum.  That model was made by the ships's crew for CAPT Hull in 1812.  

 PPS:  I agree that Ty Martin's "A Most Fortunate Ship" is an excellent resource, and a good read to boot.  Get the revised edition- he made some chages when new material came to light after the original was published. 

 

Webmaster, IPMS Patriot Chapter  www.ipmspatriot.org

Billerica, MA

 

  • Member since
    December, 2002
Posted by lenroberto on Wednesday, January 17, 2007 8:15 PM

Thanks Bill-  this thread was boosted back up here recently-  but I posted it in January 2004 originally!!

You can see how mine turned out here:

http://www.modelingmadness.com/reviews/misc/robertoconst.htm

thanks and c ya around....

Len

  • Member since
    January, 2007
Posted by peterj on Thursday, January 18, 2007 7:24 AM
 rcboater wrote:

The problem with Ray's post are the unanswered questions.   For example, he says things like "prior to 1809, the lower masts were lampblack."  But what about after 1809, when the wooldings were removed? What color then?  black or white?  (I'll have to look through Ty Martin's book again....)

There is another posting which has Cdr Martin's essay about Constitution colors, here:

/forums/373434/ShowPost.aspx

Here is what he says:


 William Gilkerson and Commander Tyrone G. Martin , U.S. Navy, Retired
An artist spends his days at an easel concerned with the composition of the image he is creating--its texture, colors, shapes--to achieve a visual and emotional impact. A historian spends his days largely amid quantities of aging paper, seeking to build a coherent and accurate story of a person, thing, or event of another era from the words left by those involved. Bring these two creators together, and both may face considerations they had not previously addressed. The artist must discover how to describe in words exactly what he needs from historians--not only the form, hues, and "feel" of a subject, but the setting and activity appropriate to the subject as he seeks to portray it. The historian, on the other hand, must attempt not only to explain subjects and circumstances but to describe them "visually." In the case of maritime subjects, it is particularly useful for the artist and the historian to have had some experience in the milieu, for it is an environment quite alien to most lives.

Take as an example the problem of depicting USS Constitution, now two hundred years old and the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world. Launched in October of 1797, "Old Ironsides" will celebrate the two hundredth anniversary of that event by sailing the waters of Massachusetts Bay. No ship in the history of the United States Navy provides a better example of change over a span of time. The Constitution is a national icon, one that has been pictured countless times, and yet many of the images have been drawn with no concern for how the ship really looked at the moment supposedly being illustrated.

When "Old Ironsides" first sailed in July 1798, it bore ornate bow and stern decorations. which even then were becoming passé: a Greco-Roman figure of Hercules bearing a scroll representing the Constitution of the United States, together with a fasces representing union and a "battoon" (club) symbolizing willingness to defend. Curlicue-filled trailboards curved down and aft from Hercules' feet. The bowhead railings were completely open. Across the transom were draped four allegorical ladies, in addition to stars, eagle, crossed cannon, pilasters, and rope framing--and six windows illuminating the captain's cabin. There were fifteen gun ports in a yellow ocher streak, while the upper deck had bulwarks from the mainmast aft but only netting forward. There were thirty long guns on both the spar and gun decks. All three lower masts consisted of single trees.

The ship was inactive from the late summer of 1801 until the late spring of 1803, but when it returned to service for the Barbary War the fore and main masts had become "made masts," built up of many pieces with a number of iron hoops to bind them. The upper bow head railings were now enclosed by canvas screens. The spar deck gun battery had been reduced to just fourteen guns, all carried on the quarterdeck. In February 1804 Commodore Edward Preble caused bulwarks to be raised from the main mast forward to the after end of the fore chains; behind these were emplaced six of the original quarterdeck 12-pounders, three on a side, their former locations being taken by 24-pounders borrowed from the Kingdom of Two Sicilies.

In September of 1804, the frigate collided with USS President in fluky winds; lost were Hercules, fasces, battoon, and some trailboard. All were replaced the following month at Malta by a plain billethead and equally plain trailboards. The interior of the bulwarks and the gun carriages are known to have been painted in yellow ocher at this time. Also, during October and November the six borrowed long guns were returned, and eight 32-pounder carronades were received from the United States and placed on the spar deck. From then until the ship became inactive again in 1807, there were no noteworthy changes in her appearance.

Returning to service in February 1809 under the command of Commodore John Rodgers, the ship appeared with skypoles for the first time, a bulwark enclosing the forecastle, and possibly the double dolphin striker that was the frigate's hallmark during the War of 1812. Where Preble had installed a midships bulwark there were now hammock nettings of the same height as the bulwarks, supported by crane irons. The plain billethead was replaced with one bearing a little decoration, and the trailboards with new ones featuring a fire-breathing dragon. Repairs to the transom eliminated the ladies but otherwise seem to have left the decor unchanged. The frigate now also had all-new gun batteries, with longer 24-pounders on the gun deck and all 32-pounder carronades above.

In June 1810 Isaac Hull succeeded Rodgers in command. That September, he painted the interior bulwarks, as well as hatch coamings and other trim, green. At the same time he had his carpenters cut additional air ports at the berth deck level, extending the line of ports that previously had supplied only the officers' cabins aft. In late December, a new galley smokestack was made. April 1811 found the ship with a white gun streak for the first time. During May and June 1812, Hull had the ship, then at the Washington Navy Yard, fitted with a trysail mast abaft the mizzen for better operation of the spanker. He also took aboard a single 18-pounder long gun on the forecastle, as a chase gun. In mid-July, under pursuit by a British squadron off New Jersey, Hull cut away part of the upper transom in order to run out two guns aft; when the damage was repaired, some transom decorations, such as the crossed cannons of 1797, were not replaced.

William Bainbridge relieved Hull in September 1812. He landed the 18-pounder that Hull had placed on the forecastle and also cut bridle ports in either bow, in effect making the ship seem to have sixteen guns on each side of the gun deck. By the time Bainbridge went to sea in October, he had painted the gun streak yellow again, hoping to be able to deceive observers into thinking his frigate was British.

Charles Stewart was Constitution's third wartime commander. The only obvious visual change he made was to land four of the spar deck carronades and replace them with two 24-pounder Congreve "shifting gunades." One of them was arranged to be able to fire either to port or starboard through the forwardmost ports of the forecastle; the other fired to either side through the aftermost ports of the quarterdeck. He, too, painted the gun streak yellow as a deceptive measure.

"Old Ironsides"--for thus the frigate was known after August 1812--was in reserve from 1816 until early 1821. When the ship reappeared, wooden planking completely enclosed her bowhead rails, the white gun streak extended all the way around the cutwater, and the carvings on the cutwater were no longer highlighted. In place of skypoles, each of the masts bore sliding gunters. The gun batteries were essentially unchanged, although some of the 1808 24-pounders carried through the late war had been replaced with slightly different 1816 models. Briefly in April 1821, as an experiment, Constitution was fitted with "strap-on," man-powered paddle wheels, which protruded from the number-six gun ports. Although Commodore Jacob Jones, now in command, carried the contraptions to the Mediterranean for further testing, he never used them. In May 1822, conventional skypoles were set up in place of the sliding gunters.

Commodore Thomas Macdonough commanded the ship in 1824 and 1825. Prior to leaving the United States in October of the former year, he had spencer gaffs installed on the fore and main masts; with these additional fore-and-aft sails, it was possible to handle the frigate more like a schooner. The spencers remained a part of the ship's "look" until removed in 1906. It may have been in Macdonough's time also that the ship reverted to a single dolphin striker. In any event, it was present when the frigate went to sea in 1835.

In the meanwhile, however, the frigate was very much in the public mind. Responding to a report that the Secretary of the Navy, John Branch, had inquired about the ship's condition, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (then twenty-one years old), had written the poem "Old Ironsides." Published in the Boston Advertiser on 16 September 1830, "Ay, tear her tattered ensign down!" and the lines that followed were widely reprinted in the newspapers of the day, and the ensuing clamor ensured that the Navy would rehabilitate the ship.

The advent of Commodore Jesse Duncan Elliott in command of the Boston Navy Yard as Constitution was about to enter dry dock there presaged perhaps the most controversial alteration to the ship's appearance. An ardent admirer of President Andrew Jackson, in 1834 Elliott had a poorly executed figurehead of his hero emplaced on the fabled frigate. Public outcry was followed by the surreptitious beheading of the offending carving by a local merchant skipper. The missing head later was replaced, in New York, and the Jackson figure remained aboard until 1848--its awkward position on the cutwater giving the ship a "broken nose" appearance. Additionally, Elliott is rumored to have placed bas-relief busts of Hull, Bainbridge, and Stewart across the upper transom, but this cannot be confirmed.

From 1839 to 1841, Constitution was flagship of the Pacific Squadron, based at Callao, Peru. During this period, Commodore Alexander Claxton occupied a poop cabin, or "roadhouse," which took up the entire area of the spar deck abaft the mizzen mast. The three ports on either side were glazed, and three more glazed ports were installed in the upper transom. The cabin was removed when the ship returned to the United States, and carronades were reinstalled on either quarter. The transom "windows," glazing removed, remained.

In 1843, four of the 24-pounder long guns were landed and replaced by a like number of 8-inch Paixhans shell-firing guns. These probably occupied ports number six and seven on either side of the gun deck.

From September 1844 until May 1845, during a circumnavigation under the command of Captain John ("Mad Jack") Percival, the ship was painted white with a red gun streak while sailing below the Equator. The hammock cloths, however, remained black (and got so hot in the Indian Ocean that eggs could be cooked on them).

When the ship returned to the Mediterranean in 1848, her bow head sported a more heroic rendering of "Old Hickory," a new full-length figurehead in the Greco-Roman style, installed with a rake that resulted in a more pleasing profile. The trailboards were decorated with leafy vines and what appears to have been a Tudor rose centered on each side. In the same area, chain gammoning, bolted in place, replaced the hemp windings that had gone through a slot in the cutwater until then. The multi-tiered main fife rail on the spar deck, in the shape of a shallow U, was replaced by a single-level model like the Greek letter pi, its two legs straddling the mast. A similar one around the mizzen replaced the spider rail formerly installed. As a result of an 1845 policy change, the ship carried only 32-pounder long guns, of two different lengths and weights--how many is not known for certain.

For the Constitution's 1852-1855 tour as flagship of the African Squadron, the ship again had a poop cabin. Following this cruise and a period of layup, the frigate was taken in hand to be fitted as the second school ship to be assigned to the Naval Academy. The poop cabin was converted to recitation rooms; later, a house was built over the main hatch, providing additional classrooms. Eight or ten 32-pounder long guns were retained on the quarterdeck for midshipman training. The hammock stowage areas in the waist and atop the bulwarks were enclosed in light planking in place of nettings. Below the gun deck ports were installed windows, as the entire area was given over to study rooms for the fourth-class midshipmen. The ship served in this capacity from 1860 until 1871, first in Annapolis, then Newport, Rhode Island, where the Academy relocated during the Civil War, and then in Annapolis once again.

A major restoration occurred during 1873-1876, in which the ship was stripped to its frames and rebuilt. The bow again received a billethead, and the trailboards appeared with an oval U.S. shield in place of the rose (as can be seen today). The transom was rebuilt with three ports at the spar deck level and three windows down below, and the decor was simplified to an eagle crest with three stars on either side and some "rope" trim (again, as can be seen today). This program also installed four iron boat davits, which were new to the ship, on the port and starboard quarters. When the Constitution resumed service in 1877, it was as a unit of the apprentice training squadron, the frigate continuing in that role until the end of 1881, when she was retired to an uncertain future.

In 1882, the ship was towed from New York to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and there became the resident "receiving ship," i.e., barracks for transients and crews whose vessels were undergoing repair. All the yards were landed, and a large "barn" was built over the spar deck. (The spencer and spanker gaffs remained in place, just above the roofline.) At some point during the following decade and a half, deal planking was added over most of the hull to prolong the life of the decaying wood.

Political action returned Constitution to Boston in 1897, just in time for the ship's centennial. After nearly another decade of sporadic civic action, the vessel was taken in hand to have the barn removed and overall appearance largely restored to that of the War of 1812--except that the bowhead area remained fully enclosed, the mid-nineteenth-century fife rails remained, and only standing rigging, by and large, was installed. Another detail from the glory years that was returned was the double dolphin striker. Unfortunately, no work was done to replace decaying wood in the hull (cement was used to fill rotten spots!), and the ship continued a slide toward oblivion.

A series of events in the mid-1920s resulted in a four-year restoration program (1927-31). The effort restored the ship materially to good health, but it represented a setback in terms of authenticity of appearance. During a grand tour (under tow) of the United States from 1931 to 1934, with two transits of the Panama Canal, the frigate generally reflected the appearance of 1855, except that the decorations at the bow and stern were those of 1876. Also, what had earlier been planked hammock stowage was misinterpreted as solid bulwark, both in the waist and atop the bulwarks proper, so that, except in the waist, most of the 4.6 million visitors could not see out of the ship unless they stood on something.

This appearance was maintained until Christmas Eve 1975, when the Chief of Naval Operations approved a program proposed by the Constitution's commanding officer*to restore the frigate gradually to the appearance of 1812, on the basis of painstaking research in original documents. As a result of this decision, the bowhead area has been opened up, a galley smokestack of the proper pattern has been installed, and many internal changes have been made. In keeping with the policy that historical changes will occur when decaying materials require attention, at some point in the future the waist will open up, the bulwarks will resume a lower height, trailboards will again display fire-breathing dragons, and the transom will present the more ornate decor of an earlier day.

It is plain to see that the artist who intends to paint an historically accurate picture of Constitution had best have his history well in hand. Each overhaul changed her appearance, and then again there were innumerable changes between the changes, not only to the ship, but to her crews, their uniforms, their gear, the ports of call. The "little things" matter, both to specialists and seamen. (Consider the former World War II captain who recognized his destroyer escort in a photograph: "You can tell by that radar--we got it in 1944 and were the only ship in our class to get that kind of unit.") Although a ship could have been studied in great detail, the research may have covered only one short interval in that ship's career; the next week she could have been different.

Such research informed the painting of Constitution (on the front and back cover of this issue) patrolling against slavers off Africa in 1853. On 3 November, cruising off the coast of Angola between Luanda and Cabinda, Constitution made the last capture of her career, as tersely recorded in the ship's log: "Saw Sail at daylight--0740 fired 1 gun, hoisted British Colors--0900 fired another gun--slaver H.N. Gambrill boarded--prisoners taken." The journal of the captain's clerk is a bit less sparse: "Chased and brought to the American schooner H.N. Gambrill, which, when evidence of slaving was found, was made prize under Lieutenant DeCamp and sent to the U.S. . . . She apparently had been about to load slaves for delivery in Cuba and/or the Bahamas."

Constitution had seen a suspicious American schooner, hoisted a red ensign in order to approach without alarming it (since the War of 1812, the Royal Navy had avoided boarding American ships), then ran up the Stars and Stripes and fired a gun--the moment depicted in the picture. There was a short chase, with the fast fore-and-aft-rigged slaver most likely making an effort to escape by tacking upwind before finally rounding-to under the formidable threat of the big frigate's broadside. (It is ironic that the last capture of "Old Ironsides" was an American vessel.)

This action was posed in a rough drawing showing Constitution on a bowline, close-hauled and approaching to leeward as the slaver, realizing the situation, makes a desperate plunge to windward. The light is mid-morning. As to the local topography, there was welcome help from photos in an old National Geographic. The semi-arid coast tends northwest, and as the charts and sailing directions for the area report, the prevailing autumn winds are southerly. There being no information on the slaver H.N. GAMBRILL, the ship's stern is depicted as that of a generic American fast schooner of the time. The portrait of the Constitution, however, wanted more consideration, and fortunately, of course, there exist many sources regarding her changing appearance. †

Unless an artist wants to paint a fiction, all of those "little things" and more-- sea state, wind direction, cloud formation, and sun angle are only a few--have to be known in considerable depth, along with the infinite technical complexities of a ship that has been seen by no one now alive, when one attempts to portray that ship at a precise moment of her history. Is perfect fidelity achievable? Probably not. Yet the availability of more or less well organized materials, the opportunity to consult archives and vast amounts of stored information and artifacts, and the relative ease of travel and the convenience of instantaneous communication make the prospects for accuracy of today's artist far more encouraging than they were in any earlier era.


Peter

 

  • Member since
    December, 2003
  • From: 37deg 40.13' N 95deg 29.10'W
Posted by scottrc on Thursday, January 18, 2007 8:18 AM

I have began construction this kit about a week ago to build for myself and I have not decided if I want to depict the ship as commanded by Rogers, Hull, or Bainbridge.  One experiment I am doing in regards to the stripes has been to first paint it with Antique White, then do a series of oil washes with first Yellow Ocre, then a wash of Light Grey, followed by another wash of Dark Oak to bring out some highlights then finished with a wash of Antique White.  I now have a slight cross between white and yellow, yet a good blending into the black hull which too is going through a series of washes in order to blend and tone down highlights.

I want a somewhat historical look, yet again, since I must please the deocorating committee (my spouse) an antique/artistic look to the ship without making it clashing and goudy.  

At least those art oil painting classes I paid for some years ago are being put to some useBig Smile [:D]

I cannot stress enough how important these threads with the inserts from Morton has been for many of us who are building this kit.  Thanks. 

Scott 

        

  • Member since
    January, 2007
Posted by peterj on Thursday, January 18, 2007 12:14 PM
 scottrc wrote:

I cannot stress enough how important these threads with the inserts from Morton has been for many of us who are building this kit.  Thanks. 

Scott 

I'll second that!  I first built the Constitution in 1978, as a present for my father-in-law.  I built it straight out of the box, following the Revell directions to the letter, because I had no references of any sort. 

This time around, I have several excellent books, this forum and other ship and modeling websites, and the Constitution herself just an hour and a half away.  Not to mention current techniques, materials, tools and 28 more years of modeling experience. 

I sure hope all of that makes a difference! Smile [:)]

 

Peter 

 

  • Member since
    March, 2004
Posted by Gerarddm on Saturday, January 20, 2007 1:48 PM
I have always loved Constitution, and seeing her in person is a tremendous experience, but the thought of her with a white hull and red gunport strake makes me want to place a 911 call to the Art Police. Ugh.
Gerard> WA State Current: 1/700 What-If Railgun Battlecruiser 1/700 Admiralty COURAGEOUS battlecruiser
  • Member since
    March, 2007
  • From: Portsmouth, RI
Posted by searat12 on Monday, March 26, 2007 2:59 PM
Deck Paying is thick loosely spun cotton yarn that is wedged in between the planks prior to applying the hot pitch caulking over it.  If water gets through the pitch, the cotton soaks it up and swells, keeping the seam watertight.  Pitch and paying together form caulking (the more common term). 
  • Member since
    January, 2012
  • From: Douglasville Georgia
Posted by fright on Friday, November 18, 2016 3:22 PM

Len - I'm new to ship building, but after reading and looking at so many posts, I'm building mine without gun port covers, except on the 1st two bow ports (for rough waves). I made mine as split covers with drilled center hole for gun shaft and painted covers flat black with hinges painted gun metal. I plan to add a couple of 'stacked' split-gun covers on the gun deck that will be visible through the spar deck hatch openings.

 Totally agree with peterj about these threads being so helpful for other builders!

 

Robert O

  • Member since
    September, 2005
  • From: Groton, CT
Posted by warshipguy on Saturday, November 19, 2016 7:17 AM

Unfortunately, the Revell 1/96 kit depicts the ship as she appeared after her 1924 refit.  If you are interested in building her to her War of 1812 appearance, follow Force9's thread and get a copy of Bluejacket's instructions for their current kit.  These would be the best places to start.

Bill

  • Member since
    May, 2003
  • From: Greenville, NC
Posted by jtilley on Saturday, November 19, 2016 5:45 PM

Bill, I think there' a typo in your last post. It's the old  1/196 (or 1/192) - scale kit that represents the ship's 1920s configuration. Right?

Youth, talent, hard work, and enthusiasm are no match for old age and treachery.

  • Member since
    September, 2005
  • From: Groton, CT
Posted by warshipguy on Sunday, November 20, 2016 7:08 AM

John,

I could very well be wrong, and please correct me if I am in error. I believe that I had once read that the Revell 1/96 scale kit was based on the ship after the 1924 refit, that Revell had used the plans from that then fairly recent refit.  The 1/196 scale kit is based on her 1830's appearance with the Andrew Jackson figurehead.

Bill

  • Member since
    May, 2003
  • From: Greenville, NC
Posted by jtilley on Sunday, November 20, 2016 11:37 AM

Well, i can't claim any special insights or secrets about all this, but here's my understanding for what it's worth.

When the Constitution was turned from a near-derelict receiving ship into a museum, during the 1920s, the Navy published a set of plans showing her as she then looked to visitors. Those plans were published all over the place; heaven knows how many models were based on them. They shnowed the narrow waist "hatch," the pl:anked-up hammock rails, three transom windows, jackstays on the yards, etc.,etc. And the nice, simple billethead figure she'd had before the restoration started (I guess).

In 1956 Revell decided to introduce three sailing ship kits - the Santa Maria, Bounty, and Constitution. (The one on 1/192 or 1/196, depending on how you measure). If you compare the parts of the 1956 kit to the 1920s plans, the resemblance is unmistakable. With one exception: for some reason Revell decided to include the Andrew Jackson figurehead.

Fast forward to the late fifties or early societies. The Smithsonian Institution in Washington commissioned some new models of sailing warships. It sticks in my mind the the models were built by a firm called Arthur Henning; they included a really fine model of the original Constellation (there's weird story there), and a new, 1/48 Constitution.

To design that model the Smithsonian hired George Campbell, one of the best in the business, and asked him to get as close as possible to the ship's 1824 configuration. I strongly suspect that Howard I. Chapelle, at that time the Smithsonian's curator of trans esportatio, looked over Campbell's shoulder frequently.

Just how Campbell proceeded I don't know, but it looks to me like he started with the Admiralty drawing of the President. (As came up in another thread recently, those are the only known measured sources on th American '44s  from the War of 1812.)

Campbell also took a close look at the Isaac Hull model, in Salem. I suse inspiration for much of the decorative carving, and certainly for the rigging.

Research into this sort of thing never ends, and I'm sure Mr Campbell made some mistakes. On the other hand, though, in all the Forum discussions we've had over the past several decades the only noticeable ERROR in the Revell 1/96 Constitution concerns the hinged gunport lids, which it seems shouldn't be there. For a kit that's been around for more than fifty years, that's saying a lot.

Youth, talent, hard work, and enthusiasm are no match for old age and treachery.

  • Member since
    September, 2005
  • From: Groton, CT
Posted by warshipguy on Sunday, November 20, 2016 12:11 PM

John,

Agreed!  I would also refer any USS Constitution modeler to check into Force9's log.  He is building the Revell 1/96 kit according to the Bluejacket instructions. Bluejacket advertises that their model reflects her appearance during the later half of the War of 1812.

It's interesting that you should mention the hinged gunports.  I remember thwt we had discussed them awhile ago on another thread, but I do not recall whether or not there has ever been any resolution to this question.  If I remember correctly, Hull model was the most important source indication that these should not have been included in  the model.  Also, the paintings by Corne fail to show the presence of these lids.  Yet, other paintings show the lids in different ways, as hinged lids, and as half lids hinged on top and bottom. Even the Hull model shows stacks of gunport lids on the spar deck.

As you have said, this research can go on indefinately.  I may have to spend a summer at the USS Constitution Museum trying to sort this out.

Bill

 

  • Member since
    September, 2016
  • From: north Baltimore City, Maryland
Posted by baltosale on Friday, September 08, 2017 1:38 PM

HEY!  Is everyone still here - any new photos? I'm in the middle of the 1:196 USSConstitution to sharpen old skills.  Anyone finished this one?   Next  - on the stern, why not file it down?  It worked on the 196.

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