NAUTICAL ANTIQUES call to mind visions of pirate ships of the Spanish Main, whalers from Nantucket, fast China clippers, sailing ships gliding through the waters beyond the San Francisco Bay or bearing down upon the Pool of London.
Popular nautical antiques include steering wheels, port and starboard lanterns, steamship gauges, telegraphs used to signal instructions from the bridge to the engine room, compasses, hatch covers, binnacles, wooden water casks and ships' bells--among much else. Well-constructed and solid, they were carefully designed for the hard life of the ocean voyage.
Before the 1940s, almost nothing from old ships was saved. Little survives from the days of sail and hardly anything at all exists from before the late 18th Century--except in museums. Ships that were not wrecked were stripped of everything portable when they were retired, although the last captain often kept the binnacle.
Collectible material, much of it made of brass, ranges from portholes, bells and cannon to boatswain's whistles, belaying pins and deadeyes (fittings that attach shrouds to the hull). Also well worth collecting are samples of scrimshaw art, as well as intricate models of sailing ships and ocean liners. Or consider an 18th-Century sea chest bearing a painting of mermaids and a full-rigged vessel on the inside cover.