Models of ancient wooden boats have been found in tombs across the Mediterranean, from Greece to Egypt, though these were likely used as ceremonial offerings rather than as toys. Some of the earliest model boats in America were re-creations of Noah’s ark, with small biblical characters and animals carved from wood, similar to nativity crèches.

Realistic replicas of wooden sail boats, sometimes referred to as “pond yachts,” were popularized during the sailing-schooner trend beginning in the 1860s. Though ostensibly for the children of affluent families, these boats were up to six feet long and were often piloted by fathers. During the same era, the world’s navies were transitioning from sail to steam, a change visible in model boats, too. Self-propelled toy boats provided fascinating entertainment for kids everywhere, some of which used tiny steam engines to run continuously for up to an hour. Everything from delicate pleasure boats with ornate floral designs and gilded bows to ominous hard-working warships floated on park ponds.

In the late 19th century, more affordable toy boats were produced from lithographed, sheet-metal cutouts. These dime-store products moved on wheels rather than water. Sometimes called “carpet rollers,” they included Meier’s “Meteor Boat” with a candy box mounted on top and wheels inset into the deck. Other motorized tinplate boats imitated boats carrying tiny crews or elegant courting couples, whose arms actually paddled little oars.

Miniature versions of the most famous ships like the Titanic or USS Constellation became popular as model-building kits because of their ornate details and complicated workings. Beginning at the close of the 19th century, companies such as Bassett-Lowke, Revell, and Hornby created complex kits for adult collectors, who'd spend countless happy hours assembling these highly realistic models.

Major changes in naval-boat technology were introduced at the beginning of the 20th century, resulting in many new toy varieties, including wind-up battleships, torpedo boats, and submarines produced by manufacturers like Märklin, Bing, Carette, Arnold, and Fleischman. Using rather simple mechanics, some of these underwater vehicles could dive and resurface multiple times after a single winding. Though almost all of these military ships included mounted weaponry, some could be loaded with a gunpowder mixture to simulate battle. A particularly clever model was designed after the Spanish-American war of 1898—it depicted a Spanish battleship that would break apart and sink after being struck by a rubber torpedo.

Sutcliffe created the first toy boat with a hull made from a single piece of metal in 1932. Soon the company had expanded its ship series to include submarine models like the famous Nautilus and Sea Wolf. The Nautilus was inspired by the submersible ship featured in the Disney film “20,000 Leagues Under The Sea,” and came with the distinctive teal coloring and ribbed gold decorations favored by Captain Nemo.

Many of the highest quality model ships were designed by German toymakers like K. Arnold & Co. Arnold’s popular lithographed tin toys ranged from its wind-up coast guard motorboats to its single-man rowboat, though the company stopped making tin toys in the 1960s to focus on model railroads. Another German firm, Bing, created historic ocean liners and warships of tinplate, which were painstakingly painted by hand. In contrast, Hornby released a lovely modern series of wind-up speedboats like the Alcyon and Venture models, which featured plastic windshields and miniature drivers whose heads rotated.


Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Museum of Childhood

Museum of Childhood

Embrace your inner child on this website from the Victoria and Albert Museum, filled with high-quality images and i… [read review or visit site]

The Wheelmen

The Wheelmen

This elegant tribute to turn-of-the-century bicycling includes memorabilia, photographs, and an index of 3140 bicyc… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Superb Vintage R/c Model Boat, Models Society (restoration Project)Circa 1896 Bliss Boat Battleship Paper On Wood Pull Toy - No Tin Marklin Bing Artesania Latina 20700 Usf Constellation 1:85 Scale Wood Ship Model Kit Em Cruise Ship Model 1/1250 Model Ship Mini Cruise ShipJmk Toys Metal Battleship Uss Kearsarge Motorized Pond Boat RareNeptun Gb Ww2 Frigate 'river Class' 1/1250 Model ShipRare 1: 1250 Model Ship Highly Detailed Diecast Cruise Liner Ms Rotterdam ViHansa No Cruise Ship 'ms Starward' 1/1250 Model ShipAlbatros Gb Frigate F-81 'hms Sutherland' 1/1250 Model ShipAlbatros Gb Patrol Ship P-222 'hms Forth' 1/1250 Model ShipMountford Gb Frigate F-57 'hms Andromeda' 1/1250 Model ShipNeptun Gb Ww2 Destroyer 'n Class' 1/1250 Model ShipAlbatros Gb Aircraft Carrier R-07 'hms Ark Royal' 1/1250 Model ShipHansa De Ww11 Battleship 'kms Schleswig-holstein' 1/1250 Model ShipNeptun Gb Ww2 Destroyer 'tribal Class' 1/1250 Model ShipMountford Gb Frigate F-77 'hms Blackpool' 1/1250 Model ShipArgonaut Gb Ww2 Destroyer ' B Class ' 1/1250 Model ShipFolk Art Wood And Tin Toy Car Hand Made Boat Tail RoadsterExtremely Rare Faux Whale Bone Carving Of World War 2 Model Ship U.s. DestroyerArnold 660 Cap Electric Boat Scene With Moving Ship And Blinking LighthouseUs Coast Guard Eagle Ship Model 29" Miss Supertest Iii Hydroplane 30" - Handmade Wooden Racing Boat ModelModel Shipways Fair American War Brig Wood Ship Model. New. Kit No.2015Uss Mission Capistrano T2-se Type Oiler Tanker Wooden Ship Model Scale 1:200M.s. Skaubo Cargo Ship 30" - Handcrafted Wooden Ship ModelNorwegian Dawn Liberty Statue Handmade Wooden Cruise Ship Model 40"Antique 1930s Wyandotte Boat Tail Racer Pressed Steel Race Car Unrestored Lot Of Navis Metal Waterline Models 1:1250 Scale Ships Alabama Virginia KentuckyWooden Kit Model Uss Constitution Scale: 1/8" To 1 Ft, Still In Orignal BoxCorel Flying Fish Schooner Wooden Ship Model. 1/50 ScaleVintage Dumas 1306 Miss Thriftway Too Mahogany Model 24” Boat – Multi-boat KitSs Rex Italian Ocean Liner Handcrafted Wooden Ship Model 34"Cm It Passenger Ship 'ms Guglielmo Marconi' 1/1250 Model ShipVintage Nos Dumas 21" Chris Craft Monterey Express Model Boat Kit J-16 W/motor Mamoli Blue Shadow, Revolutionary War Brigantine Wood Ship Kit Model New Mv22Mamoli Mv26 Schooner America 1:66 Scale Wood Ship Model Kit Em Celebrity Millennium Cruise Ship Large 10.5" Resin Model Ship Souvenir ReplicaMarine Model Company #1084 "swordfish" Solid Hull Wooden Ship KitHms Victory Wood Model Ship Kit Mantua Ma776 1:98 ScaleCragstan Tin Friction Station Wagon W / Speed Boat/ Trailer / MotorArtesania Latina San Francisco Galeón S. Xvi1:90 Scale Wood Ship Model "lexington" 1/100 Wood Plank-on-frame Wood Mamoli KitDiligence English Revenue Cutter Ship Model-kit No.1073 1870-30 Marine Model CoWillie L. Bennett Chesapeake Bay Skipjack Kit By Model Shipways # Ms2032Hansa De Projected Battlecruiser 'op-q Class' 1/1250 Model ShipLot Of 1950s 1960s Nos Model Powerboat Parts Sterling K & O Aristo-craft + More1:700 Usn Fsf-1 Sea Fighter Experimental Lcs - ResinAmati Giunca Cinese Pirata Wooden Ship Model KitSea Witch Extreme Clipper Ship-marine Model Co. Kit No. 1079 Scale 1/8” = 1’ Thermopylae Wooden.clipper Ship KitAmati Arrow American Gunboat Wooden Ship Model Kit Made In ItalyRevell Ship Model Kits ,thermopylae & Cutty Sark.The Allure Of Toy Ships Book - Tin Boat Bing Marklin Clockwork Germany TinplateVintage Billing Boats Dragon Sailboat KitModel Shipways Kit-brig Fair AmericanVintage 1980's Harvey 1.847 Model Ship Wooden Kit1950's Wooden Boat, Turquise & White With MotorMercator Pilgrim Passenger Ship 'ts Gunung Djati' 1/1250 Model ShipVintage Billing Boats Hjejlen Wooden Model KitMidwest Products The Fantail Launch Ii Wood Boat Model Kit No. 958 Radio Control