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Color Differances between USS Constitution & USS United States

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  • Member since
    July 2003
  • From: USA
Color Differances between USS Constitution & USS United States
Posted by 72cuda on Monday, February 7, 2005 2:19 PM
I'm planning on building a couple of the old Imai's USS United States but one as the Constitution or the President and was wondering if the ships where painted with the same color schemes

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  • Member since
    May 2003
  • From: Greenville, NC
Posted by jtilley on Monday, February 7, 2005 11:26 PM
We've taken up War of 1812 color schemes several times in this forum, and the bottom line seems to be - nobody really knows for sure. The Constitution's color scheme has been researche more thoroughly. Some members might disagree, but my impression is that at the beginning of the War of 1812 she was black with a white stripe through her gunports. Later in the war (after Isaac Hull ceased to be her commanding officer) the stripe apparently was changed to the more usual yellow ochre. Sometime after the War of 1812 it reverted to white, which by the 1820s or thereabouts was the almost universal color.

The best guess is that the insides of her bulwarks and deck furniture were green. The "Issac Hull model" in the Peabody-Essex Museum probably is the best guide to her color scheme we have. It has the white stripe and green inboard works.

I can't recall having read anything recent on the color scheme of the United States. If I were building a model of her I'd probably give her a black hull with a yellow stripe and green inboard works.

Incidentally, there's some evidence that during the War of 1812 it was customary for the stripe between the gunports to be continued all the way across the knee of the head and the trailboards to the bow. That scheme certainly was fashionable in the British navy at about that time.

That's about all I can offer on this subject. Maybe some other members have done more reading about it than I have.

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

  • Member since
    July 2003
  • From: USA
Posted by 72cuda on Tuesday, February 8, 2005 7:32 AM
do you what color green will best be used compaired with FS #'s?, as for the Yellow would it be close to a Harvest Gold color?
Or the best thing is who makes to best colors for this era of ships?

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  • Member since
    May 2003
  • From: Greenville, NC
Posted by jtilley on Tuesday, February 8, 2005 9:05 AM
I don't do FS numbers - at least for sailing vessels. The data just isn't good enough to be that precise about it.

There's plenty of room for argument, and for personal aesthetic taste, in old shp colors. Generally it's best to avoid really bright colors; they existed in those days all right, but were expensive. Bright reds and blues, for instance, probably should be confined to small details like figureheads and stern carvings.

There's been considerable discussion about what those yellow hull stripes looked like. I think the general consensus is that it was a "yellow ochre" - i.e., a dull yellow with a fair amount of brown in it. Some people think it should lean toward buff - i.e., have a little bit of an orange cast. It seems fair to say that there was no standard color for the purpose, and that different ships used different colors at different times.

The green on the inboard works of the Issac Hull Constitution model is pretty dark, but it's also awfully old and probably more than a bit dirty. I think the original green probably was quite a bit lighter. I think a dull, slightly greyish medium green would be most appropriate; there may be some disagreement.

To me, the uncertainty and variation of color schemes is part of what makes this hobby interesting and fun. There are some limits to what's believable and consistent with the historical record, but there's also considerable room for personal taste.

To my knowledge three companies make paints that are specifically designed for sailing ship models: Humbrol, Model Shipways, and Testor's.

The Humbrol sailing ship range is quite small, and not widely available in the U.S.

The Model Shipways range (sold by Model Expo, at <>) is pretty big, and the colors are believable. I've used quite a few of those colors, and I've had mixed luck with them. Some colors work fine; others -especially the blues - haven't worked well. They have a syrupy, translucent consistency. (It's entirely possible that the ones I got were defective, or too old. I've had them around for several years.)

I just became aware of the Testor's acrylic marine colors range recently. My local hobby shop doesn't carry them, but the store run by a friend of mine in Newport News, Virginia does and I bought several of the colors last time I was up there. I think the colors are based on the old range of ship paints from Floquil, which Testor's took over a few years ago. I don't remember all the colors in the range, but my experience with Testor's acrylics has generally been pretty good.

My personal favorite paint is PolyScale, which, to my knowledge, doesn't have a range designed specifically for sailing ships. But I've never let that discourage me in the least. PolyScale has a fine, wide range of browns. Whether they're labeled "Italian Air Force Red-Brown," "RAF Dark Earth," or "Denver and Rio Grande Western Depot Brown" is of no interest to me; I just care what they look like. The combination of camouflage colors and railroad colors yields quite a variety of yellow ochres. Study carefully all the pictures you can find in books. Then take your pick - and if you don't like any of the available colors, take a deep breath and mix one you do like. Few if any modelers will say you're wrong. I certainly won't.

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

  • Member since
    July 2003
  • From: USA
Posted by 72cuda on Tuesday, February 8, 2005 9:44 AM
thanks for the INFO, I've seen the Testors ship colors at a HS back in KC but haven't seen anything around the DC area yet I might have to contact Testors themselves to get a color card to get the ball park colors, but for the green is it like a palish green or a more true green?

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  • Member since
    May 2003
  • From: Greenville, NC
Posted by jtilley on Tuesday, February 8, 2005 12:24 PM
The green on the Isaac Hull model, if I remember correctly (I may not; it's been a long time), is a dark, slightly greyish green - but without much of a blue cast, and certainly no brown one. In several books I've seen the interior bulwark color depicted as a considerably lighter shade, sort of a dull pea green.

That's about the best I can do with this one. This is a place where there's plenty of room for personal taste. I very much doubt that the individual who made the Isaac Hull model paid much attention to the fine points of color matching; he probably picked up the first pot of green paint he found. (The whole model looks like it was subjected to that approach. It's pretty crude.) And the modern researchers who've done paintings of ships from the period have just been making educated guesses.

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

  • Member since
    July 2003
  • From: USA
Posted by 72cuda on Tuesday, February 8, 2005 12:44 PM
The reason for grilling is I want to at least make an effort to try to get things straight enough to pass, and I do have an abundance of Testors FS paints and I'll go for a light green color and I guess I'll mix my own yellow ochre, I have a color picture of the kits on their boxes (Imported by Monogram and sold as a Monogram kit), but my delima is that I've built the 1/96 Revell USS Constitution, and they call for something completely different then the Imai/Monograms for color schemes the only thing they agree on is the guns & mounts and deck colors

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  • Member since
    November 2005
Posted by Anonymous on Tuesday, February 8, 2005 1:08 PM
This has probably been posted before, but it's from the Seaways ship modeling list archives. It is an essay by Ray Morton on Constitution's color scheme - warning - it's long. My thoughts - It was 200 years ago, and I am generally wary of "experts" who speak with such an authoritative tone, but it does make for interesting reading.

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

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.


Ray Morton

  • Member since
    November 2005
Posted by Anonymous on Tuesday, February 8, 2005 1:21 PM
...and another long essay, this by William Gilkerson and CMDR Tyrone G. Martin, USN (Ret). The former is a reknowned artist, whose depictions of Old Ironsides grace several books. The latter is a former commander of the USS Constitution, whose book "A Most Fortunate Ship" is widely regarded as a definitive history of the ship.

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.

  • Member since
    May 2003
  • From: Greenville, NC
Posted by jtilley on Tuesday, February 8, 2005 1:32 PM
The preceding two posts are the best, most concise review of the Constitution's appearance I've encountered.
I do wonder a little about the assertion that the ship's name wasn't painted on the transom. The basis for that view appears to be the Hull model. It's pretty crude; whether the name was one the real ship or not, I suspect the person who built it wasn't up to the task of doing lettering that small.

I hope everybody in the forum can remember where these two posts are. Queries about this topic probably will come up in the future, and these two probably will answer most of them. Fascinating stuff.

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

  • Member since
    July 2003
  • From: USA
Posted by 72cuda on Wednesday, February 9, 2005 11:41 AM
what a list thanks everyone, now all I got to do is get off my Duff and get started, I knew if I'd ask any of you folks about this subject someone will come up with some great information

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

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


  • Member since
    May 2003
  • From: Greenville, NC
Posted by jtilley on Saturday, February 12, 2005 11:10 AM
I'm "replying" to this thread in order to get it shoved to the top of the list. The topic came up again in a query from a new member.

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

  • Member since
    November 2005
Posted by Anonymous on Wednesday, February 16, 2005 8:55 PM
Wow! This thread is great!!

Many thanks to all who have contributed! One can imagine rthat this information really helps those in the process of building the subject, myself included. Am one of those that are hesitant to ask about some details about her "Old Ironsides". Because it is obvious that there are things already discussed in other threads, but are a bit hard to find on a tight schedule.

Anyway, I would also like to express my many thanks to all those who contributed to this thread.

It is nice to learn alot about the Ships of Sail.

Ian Big Smile [:D]

  • Member since
    November 2003
Posted by richter111 on Friday, August 5, 2005 11:48 PM
  • Member since
    March 2013
Posted by Marcus.K. on Saturday, May 19, 2007 4:33 PM

Hello Sailors,

months ago I was aware of the "Ray Morton" describtion in an german forum. Since that I wonder: who is Ray Morton and what makes him to an "expert"?

Does anyone know him?
Is he author? Historian?
Does he name sources?


I sure know T. Martin - I am on Page 215 of his very interesting book.

Thanks for that interesting post with his summery of Connies design. This will help me a lot.

  • Member since
    May 2003
  • From: Greenville, NC
Posted by jtilley on Saturday, May 19, 2007 7:52 PM

I certainly can't claim to have read all that's been written on this subject, but I have to confess that I've never heard of Mr. Morton outside this thread.  I know nothing of his credentials; maybe they're impressive.  Mr. Rodriguez, in posting the long quotation, politely expressed a little reservation about the "authoritative" tone of Mr. Morton's assertions.  I agree with Mr. Rodriguez.  I tend to have doubts about anybody who proclaims he's read everything that's ever been written about a subject, and that he's "finishing several books on the Age of Sail" - none of which, so far as I can tell, has in fact been published.

Mr. Morton's name doesn't appear in the cumulative index on the Nautical Research Journal CD-ROM set.  That set, however, only runs through Volume 40 (1995).  Mr. Morton asserts that his definitive disquisition on the Constitution is to be published beginning in 1999.  Maybe it was.  I've been a regular reader of the NRJ for about thirty years, but I think I did miss some issues at about that time - or, of course, I may have simply forgotten them.  (I doubt it; that seems like the sort of thing I'd remember.  But my poor old brain does forget things with increasing frequency these days.) 

Earlier in this thread I questioned one of Mr. Morton's specific statements:  his assertion that the ship's name didn't appear on her transom during the War of 1812.  Another one that I find highly questionable is the statement that the upper masts were left unpainted "so their condition would be visible" (or words to that effect).  Leaving most of the topmasts and topgallant masts unpainted was perfectly ordinary practice throughout the sailing ship period - not for that reason, but because the parrels of the yards slid on them, and would quickly mess up any paint job.  The exposure of cracks or checks in the wood may well have been seen as a fringe benefit of that practice, but certainly wasn't the main motive for it. 

Much of what Mr. Morton says coincides with the assertions of Captain Martin and Mr. Gilkerson - both of whose judgment I certainly do respect.  In other cases, if I were building a model of the Constitution (heaven forbid) I frankly would be disinclined to base any decisions solely on what Mr. Morton says. 

Incidentally - I also don't claim to be the world's authority on the nautical vernacular, but I've never heard any knowledgable historian or seaman refer to this distinguished ship as "the Connie."  To each his/her own, but please forgive me if I continue referring to her by her actual name.  (I also have the old habit of calling her "her," despite allegations from some quarters that the use of feminine pronouns in reference to ships constitutes sexism.)  I don't have any problem calling the beautiful old Lockheed airliner the "Connie;" back in the fifties practically every aviation-minded person did.  And I believe the crew of the modern aircraft carrier Constellation are in the habit of calling her "Connie."  But I, as a certifiable landlubber (who once distinguished himself by getting seasick while lying on a water bed in a furniture store), don't feel comfortable doing that.  And a 200-year-old frigate....

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

  • Member since
    March 2007
  • From: Portsmouth, RI
Posted by searat12 on Saturday, May 19, 2007 8:33 PM
Somewhere in my references I szeem to recall reading that the United States, unlike some of the other frigates in her class, featured a yellow/buff stripe, and not the white stripe usual in the other frigates.... Perhaps I have that wrong?  I also recall that during one command, the stripe was actually gray!  I must dig back into my resources, but perhaps some else out there can confirm this for me?  I may be confusing United Stes with 'HMS Shannon,' which I KNOW was painted gray...
  • Member since
    March 2013
Posted by Marcus.K. on Wednesday, July 9, 2008 11:16 AM

Hello everybody,

as already mentioned, the two posts above do describe the appearence of the USS Constitution in a very precise way. Fascinating details.

We did discuss about the reliabilty of Ray Morton´s describtion ..

T. Martin of course is an outstanding expert - no discussion about that - but ... does anyone know, where the essay of T. Martin and William Gilkerson is from? A book, a journal? Any reliable source?

I checked and found that Jose was not active in this forum since 2005 ... so we may not get the answer by him. Does anyone else have any idea?

  • Member since
    December 2005
  • From: San Diego
Posted by jgonzales on Wednesday, July 9, 2008 4:45 PM

Hello all,

I found the article while doing a google search for "uss constitution" and "color scheme". It was a nautical research journal. Unfortunately I don't recall the journal name, and the same google search done 3 years later does not turn it up. I did a fairly extensive search and could not come up with the article, other than a couple of references on other websites to this very FSM thread.

Sorry I can't be of much help.

Jose Gonzales

Jose Gonzales San Diego, CA
  • Member since
    March 2013
Posted by Marcus.K. on Wednesday, July 9, 2008 7:20 PM

Ups, Mr. Gonzales - still active - but with another Username.

Thank you for answering that fast!!

I found W. Gilkerson´s e-mail-adress - and - if he is as polite as you have been, we soon will know more about it!

  • Member since
    March 2013
Posted by Marcus.K. on Friday, July 11, 2008 5:21 PM

Hello Gentlemen!

I recieved an answer on the source of the describtion of the USS Constitution:

Dear Mr. Koch - The Constitution article to which you refer is genuine, and
accurate.  Commander Martin is "the" leading historian of that ship.  It was
printed some years ago in WoodenBoat Magazine.  I do not have the issue, but
you can get that information from the magazine's website, where there is an
index of back issues.  Best of luck with your project.  William Gilkerson

I did not yet try to check in "Woodenboat" - but since I know the source of the answer, I trust that it was correct. So: these lines have been written by Mr. Gilkerson and Cmd. Martin.

Therefore the are reliable a lot - I would think. Any comments?

Best regards


  • Member since
    August 2007
  • From: North Carolina
Posted by Steve Larsen on Sunday, July 13, 2008 1:23 PM

Photos of the "Hull Model" can be seen on Model Warships, about a third of the way down the thread:

Steve Hawley passed on these photos of the famous "Hull Model". As stated above, the Peabody Museum is the custodian of the model. The Hull Model was presented to Isaac Hull by the ship's crew shortly after the War of 1812 and is believed to be the best period reference of Old Ironside's actual War of 1812 appearance.



  • Member since
    May 2003
  • From: Greenville, NC
Posted by jtilley on Sunday, July 13, 2008 11:43 PM
I had the chance to take a look at the "Hull model" last summer (2007).  Here's a link to a Forum thread in which we discussed it shortly thereafter:  /forums/818812/ShowPost.aspx .

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

  • Member since
    December 2005
  • From: San Diego
Posted by jgonzales on Wednesday, February 21, 2018 9:43 AM

Hello all,

With a few active builds of the USS Constitution in the forum, I thought I'd bump this string up. Credit where credit is due, I believe the Ray Morton essay was first posted by Len Roberto, but this one also includes a long essay by Cmdr Tyrone Martin USN ret that I added. Hope you all find this helpful :)


Jose Gonzales San Diego, CA
  • Member since
    May 2017
  • From: Asheville, NC
Posted by LIVIT on Wednesday, February 21, 2018 11:29 AM

Tks Jose, very interesting read ! I will link it on my build reference page.   Dale

  • Member since
    September 2005
  • From: Groton, CT
Posted by warshipguy on Wednesday, February 21, 2018 1:05 PM

Thanks for bringing this thread to our collective attention! This is very informative, and I have placed it in my "Favorites" along with Force9's build.


  • Member since
    February 2016
  • From: Western No. Carolina
Posted by gene1 on Thursday, February 22, 2018 10:01 AM

Bill, I have only several days to finish my Alabama, but I had to start my Imai/ Monogram USS United States. I also have the Monogram 1/120 Constitution . They are really beautiful kits & much easier than the Revell 1;96 pair. Revell kits are much better detailed, but not better molds.

  I wanted something easier to build than the Kearsarge & Alabama. They are really beautiful ship models, but take a lot more time to build. I am going to build both these 1/120 kits out of the box pretty much. I will post pictures of my Alabama on my thread pretty quick & will start a new thread on the 1/120 USS United States in a few days. I have the hull all painted & it turned out nice , really nice. The masking was super & I painted it pretty much like the box art. I Used most all Tamiya acrylic . Yellow & red mix for the main gun band, medium green & blue for the bulwarks & Tamiya copper for the hull. The kit did not come with a a rear " poop ?" deck. I wanted that, so I scratch built it & it did turn out nice. I will do a build thread for it too. I have my old faithful 9" piece of 1x2 for the hul bottom .

   How is you Alabama coming? We are all anxious to see it. What colors did you end up with for the hull & bulwarks & deck parts ? 

  • Member since
    March 2019
  • From: San Diego, CA
Posted by Jose Gonzales on Tuesday, March 3, 2020 8:19 AM

Bumping this thread.


  • Member since
    July 2014
  • From: Philadelphia Pa
Posted by Nino on Thursday, March 5, 2020 2:32 AM

A second "bump" ...

   and a link:


Some interesting stuff.


  • Member since
    February 2018
  • From: North Carolina, USA
Posted by Model Monkey on Thursday, March 5, 2020 7:50 AM

In addition to differences in color, note that USS United States was fit with whopping 42-pounder carronades.*  Constitution was fit with 32-pounder carronades.

Below is a link to some interesting information regarding Constitution's guns.  The author describes how the ship's guns were changed significantly over time and why.

Note that there is a difference between a "carronade" and a "gunade".  A true carronade is fixed to a sliding block (called a "skid" or "skead") on its carriage with a pintle and block cast onto the bottom of the gun.  During the War of 1812, Constitution is reported to have been armed with 24 true carronades made by Henry Foxall at the Columbia Iron Works of Georgetown, Maryland circa 1808.

A gunade is short and stubby like a carronade and has a traversing carriage and rests on a sliding block similar to a carronade.  But unlike a true carronade, a gunade rests on its skead with conspicuous trunnions extending outwards from the sides of the gun.  A gunade does not have a pintle like a carronade.  Not only is the gun different, so must be the shape of the skead that carries it. 

Some or all of the fiberglass reproductions on Constitution today may be reproductions of 1840s-era gunades, not true 1808 carronades.  Perhaps someone who has visited the ship recently can tell us if the reproductions on Constitution's spar deck today are of Foxall 1808 carronades or 1840s gunades.

Some plastic kits include 1840s gunades, not true carronades.

Further complicating matters, there is a third type of gun carried at times by Constitution, called a "shifting gunade".  A shifting gunade looks like a long cannon with a cannon's type of 4-wheeled carriage. Because a shifting gunade is a trunnioned gun on a 4-wheeled carriage, it does not look like a true carronade or true gunade.

It is very easy to confuse the three types of guns.


* See also "The History of The American Sailing Navy: The Ships and Their Development" by Howard I. Chapelle, pg. 516


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