It’s been a very quick and productive first month and a half in my new role as Ben Line Cataloguing Project Officer, and I am pleased to say that I have finished box-listing the material. There was a lot of material to go through and the process allowed me to get really involved with the various different types of records that make up a business collection of this sort. As you might expect, many of the records provide insight into the company’s evolution as a business; there are accounts, records of ventures and partnerships with other companies, and a wealth of information about the crew and staff that made up the company’s personnel over the last century or so. There are also many records about the ships owned and managed by Ben Line, and it is clear to me that the company has been very proud of its fleet. Perhaps some of the most spectacular examples of records that I’ve encountered of Ben Line ships are the scale replica models that have adorned the offices of Ben Line world-wide. Unfortunately (but perhaps fortunately from a cataloguing and preservation perspective) there are no physical models present in this collection. There are, however, many photographs of the models and so I thought I would share a few and provide an insight into this microcosm of big ships rendered small.
These scale models are commissioned by ship-builders and shipping companies and built for display in offices and partner offices (and in Ben Line’s case these were spread across the globe). They are also used to promote companies and services at trade fairs and conferences, displayed in museums such as the National Maritime Museum and even function as a form of ‘3D drawing’ as one model maker has described in their catalogue. They are incredibly detailed, and clearly a lot of skill and craftsmanship go into their building. They are also fairly expensive, with models costing thousands of pounds to design and construct.
Models such as these were made by using drawings and ship plans provided by the companies and the correspondence details much exchange between Ben Line and the makers in order to clarify technical details and closely match paint colours. The models are so exact in their execution that at first glance you could be forgiven for mistaking models such as ‘Benarmin’ for the real thing.
Just like their fully working counterparts, these scale models were subject to wear and tear (and rough handling if not rough seas). I’ve found many strings of correspondence between Ben Line and various museums and offices to deal with damage caused to models in transport, and the costs involved in making repairs. These models can be regarded as status symbols of sorts, proudly representing a fleet on dry land, and so any blemish or damage (such as that highlighted on the photograph of Benloyal at right) was recorded and the model returned to its maker for repair.
One of the more spectacular models that I’ve found in this collection is a 1:150 feet scale model of the semi-submersible drill rig ‘Bendoran’. This model was built by Angus Model-makers in Glasgow in the early 1980s. What makes this model so interesting to me is the inclusion of a perspex tank to show “a working situation and a foreshortened seabed display” with a letter from Ben Line to the model-maker expressing a desire to “make the lower half of the model into a fish tank in which live small fish could live and swim about.” I’m not sure if fish were ever introduced to the tank containing Bendoran, but the notion is a surreal one when you consider how monstrous they would appear next to the 1:150 feet scale model.
There is something intriguing about these models which to me are simultaneously small ships and large toys and I can’t help but think that they were created not only for promotional purposes, but also because in their own way these vessels are beautiful objects and need to be scaled down a bit for us to encounter and appreciate them on a level slightly more domestic and familiar to us. They also speak to the inner child, and I’m sure 9-year-old me would have loved to play with them in the bath.
It is perhaps for this reason then that I was delighted to find a ‘build your own Benledi’ cardboard cut-out model in the Ben Line collection.
This appears to have been designed as a promotional item for Ben Line and contains some information about the company and the ship. It also provides a good introduction to the various parts of a ship (until now I thought a ‘monkey island’ was a video game). I couldn’t resist the opportunity to have a go at making my own model, and so I made a copy of the template on some card, followed the instructions and built my very own Benledi ship.
“All you need are scissors, adhesive paste, two match sticks for masts, and a little patience”
Needless to say I am not spending all of my time making model ships, and now that the box-listing is done and these remarkable models have been given a mention I will be getting on with appraising the collection and planning its arrangement for cataloguing.
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