Saturday, October 22, 2011

An updated version of a blog I sent early in September about the origin and development of BMC ship models.

Hi Steve!
This is the second time I have sent this post on BMC ship models. I can't figure out why I have received no response, since we have so much in common with these ship models.  Since this is my first effort at a "blog"  my understanding is a little primitive on how to send it. If I posted a previous blog, please disregard it, as this is my more considered observations on BMC and related models of that era.
I was astounded when I chanced upon your site with the inspiring photos of the BMC models that you had repainted and restored. I have hundreds of these magnificent early castings and prize them highly. I have searched in vein for anyone who shares my admiration for this amazing little navy. It is gratifying to find that I am not alone in admiring these ships. My children know that I have a ship model collection numbering thousands of expensive, detailed models in numerous recognition model scales. They think Dad has gone a bit daft when he expresses greater fondness for these rudimentary little lumps of lead rather than for His superb castings by Neptune, Navis, Hansa, Delphin, Mercator, Trident, Argonaut, not to mention Superior and Viking. Daft I may be, but it seems I’m not alone now. Your web site is living proof that there is at least one person out there who understands!
I first encountered BMC models at, of all places, a train show here in California. Being a naval history buff and a dedicated model ship collector, I immediately recognized every class of ship in the series except the smaller destroyers. I bought the whole lot from the train dealer and then puzzled for a number of years about who made these unique models. A revelation as to the source of these models came a few years later when I saw a large set in a wooden box for sale on Ebay-UK. The UK seller used a very poor picture and description so few people bid on it. I was the winning bidder for a very reasonable price but the postage from England was horrendous for a 12 pound package. Despite the unexpected cost of postage, I became proud owner of a fabulous collection of BMC models in their large wooden case! Through these fortunate purchases and a few more I have made on Ebay especially Ebay-UK, I believe I have by now, accumulated nearly all the models that the company made in this series.
I had noticed the numerals on the bow and sterns as you mentioned on your site. I was able to create a spread-sheet following the numbering sequence on the hulls and then naming the class of ship that each casting in that sequence represented. I made comments next to each numbered casting and listed any variations in that casting that I detected in my own collection. In the spread-sheet, I listed not only the class of ship that the numbered casting represented but, alongside each battleship, battle cruiser, armored cruiser and cruiser casting entry, I included the name of every ship in that class.
The total number of castings to in my collection, including those with numbered hulls and those without numbered hulls, amounts to over 68 different types. These castings represent vessels that range in size from submarines, minesweepers, torpedo boats and "Humber" class monitors, to two large four-stack liner types. Through this extensive range of individualized castings, the manufacturer had justified the claim in it’s catalog that “every class of ship in the Royal Navy is represented".

In your article “Minifigs, Mystery solved!” You quote from a Wikipedia article which speaks about the relationship between Bassett-Lowke and BMC. I am the author of that Wikipedia article. I wrote that Wikipedia entry with the hope that someone with more knowledge of BMC models would either add to my entry it or contradict it.
The great Scottish philosopher, David Hume, said of His first literary work, that “It fell stillborn from the press”. Until now, that’s how I have felt about my forlorn Wikipedia entry. I have seen it quoted on a number of occasions, but always by someone more interested in Bassett-Lowke trains than the ship models .It was a joy for me to see it quoted, at last, by someone actually interested and informed about BMC ship models and their history.
I based my Wikipedia entry on information contained in my BMC catalog. The catalog stated that the models were commenced early in 1915 partly in response to models seen at a German toy fair prior to the war. The catalog states that the firm of Bassett-Lowke commissioned the BMC company to cast a series of ship models intended to represent every class of ship in the Royal Navy. I have determined, based on my models, that the time period of the Royal Navy that the collection represents is from about 1891 through 1916. This time span is based on the earliest class of cruiser in the collection, the Apollo class, first units commissioned in 1891, to the most modern classes of ships I have, or have seen in other collections, the Arethusa cruisers and the Queen Elizabeth battleships, the first of these units being commissioned in 1916.
Considering this early date of manufacture, these must be one of the first sets of scale metal ship models made. Looking at the range of models available in the sets and the quality of the models, these must be the granddaddy of all cast metal recognition model sets as well as cool toys for men and boys of privilege! No doubt Fred T Jane had these ships in his collection and they may indeed be the ones pictured with Mr. Jane in Fred Dorris’s fine article on early recognition models which you cited in Your Boucher article. I too, have speculated about whether the models displayed with Mr. Jane in the photo were BMC's although prior to 1915 I know he had made and used models of wood and wire. I am sure after the BMC models sets were available that he had several sets. I am also sure that there were copies of our models on Admiralty map tables during the “Great War”.
I read with great interest, your speculation on the origins of these models and I love the wonderful pictures of your BMC fleet and the photos of the BMC cardboard boxed sets. I must point out, however, that sadly, many of the ships pictured in front of those BMC boxes do not belong there. The larger ships placed in front of the boxes are a in a bigger scale using a different casting process from BMC. Unlike the smaller BMC models, these larger ships have removable turrets, cardboard sighting towers and separate boats. I have over a hundred of these larger models and once you handle them you can see that, while they probably date from the same period, they are have quite different characteristics. I have found it not uncommon in auctions to find ship model castings from other manufacturers mixed in with BMC models. Besides these larger scale models I just referred to, there are a series of ships cast in solid lead with cast masts and huge numbers on their flat bottoms. These solid lead castings may be what you refer to as “Minifigs”. They appear to me to be home-cast lead take-offs of the original BMC models. While I enjoy them and happily include them in my BMC fleet, they are obviously of a quite distinct origin. Another group of ship models often appearing with, or confused with BMC models, are four slush-cast or pot-metal take off's of the BMC King Edward VII, Swiftsure, Lord Nelson, and a morphed King Edward VII/ Majestic combination. Oddly enough, and a mystery in itself, is the fact that these pot-metal ships have the same numbers and letters on the sterns as their BMC opposites. The difference is that numbers are in Arabic rather than Roman Numerals. Thus, as far as I can determine, at auction, besides authentic BMC models, one may encounter three other types of cast metal ship models sometimes identified as “BMC”. Two of these types are obvious take-offs from the original BMC models, one, the pot-metal series using a casting process developed long after BMC went out of business, the second, solid cast lead replicas of original BMC models and a third type, a the larger scale of ships I referred to above which often has removable turrets, boats and sighting towers. This last, larger series is actually 1/1200 scale but as with BMC, the proportions are exaggerated.
As an aside, the range of ships in this larger scale series (many of which appear in front of the BMC cardboard set boxes you pictured) includes one Dreadnought and it’s near-sisters, one pre-Dreadnought, three armored cruisers, two light cruisers, five destroyers and two submarines -Much of this may appear to be minutia but it helps if one is puzzled about who-made-what, in the quest to disentangle the BMC story
I have one question which I probably should have asked earlier. You mention Minifig ship models but honestly, I have collected ship models for over fifty years and never heard of them. You and David Crook illustrate a single page typed catalog listing from the Minifigs Company listing its models. You both puzzle over that list. When I saw that page I saw that it corresponded exactly to my collection of the solid- lead models with the big weird numbers on their flat bottoms. On David’s site you speculate these models were derived from an older series of models. If these Minifig models you refer to are the same as my models, then you are correct. That typed list corresponds exactly to my collection of solid lead models which, when I first encountered them, I saw they were obviously a limited selection of the BMC models, cast in solid lead with cast masts and devoid of the Roman Numerals. The fact that two of the models have no name in the Minifig list but are referred to as “early turret battleship” prove to me that the makers had stumbled on some old BMC’s and made custom castings for war game purposes. They were either unaware of the actual name of the class of ship the model represented or chose not to name the ships, giving war gamer purchasers the option of naming the models themselves in the process of creating their own war game navies.
Whatever the case, I am grateful for your publishing that list since it confirms for me at least, that the source of my solid lead take-offs was a company called Minifig, a late manufacturer, primarily of soldiers and war game paraphernalia. Whatever their origin, they must have been made in big numbers since I find them a lot mixed in with many of my BMC purchases. Have I described Minefig ships here or are they something different?
I hope I have not waxed too enthusiastic in this, my first blog. If I have, please forgive me, your site, your avid interest and learned speculation on this unique scale of models, and your glorious restorations of BMC ships, has made my day –and uhh –the next day.. I started this blog early yesterday afternoon when I found your site and now it’s going on 2:30 the next day. Like you, I have become fascinated with these models, partly for their early history and the vast range of ships they represent, partly for the fact that what they depict, most charmingly, is the golden age of the Royal Navy from late Victorian to early World War One. In all, they represent a remarkable achievement, and we should be proud to take part in such a grand provenance.
As for creating other navies in of the period in this BMC style, once I had collected sufficient amounts of these delightful models I had similar ideas. I have at this moment only speculated as to how to create ships of navy’s contemporary to the BMC collection. Since I have a number of duplicates, especially of the pre-Dreadnought classes of ships, I have taken those that are worn or damaged and made non-permanent alterations such as adding additional funnels and repainting them in order to let them represent similar pre-Dreadnought era ships of foreign navies. I have not actually made any new models but your work has given me some ideas.. I greatly admire your excellent modeling abilities as you have moved on into the creation in BMC style, of such fine works as your SMS Nassau and your exceptional Hapsburgs. While these will fit nicely into the BMC pantheon, they strike me more as being in the crisp Boucher style tradition than in the less detailed BMC style. In all however, you are moving ahead quite nicely following your intention of complimenting the BMC range of models. Speaking of Boucher, I had the pleasure of restoring part of one of those rare sets for a collector. They were made of wood and brass and had very pleasing lines in the crisp simplicity of the best of the profile- model style.
Whoopee, ‘nuff said on these grand topics for a while! I see you live in Northern California. I live in Alameda though I am presently spending the summer here in Yosemite where my oldest son and his family live year around. I actually bought a big collection of BMC’s recently and had them sent here to the valley. They should arrive any day now! I am really excited about seeing my purchase but my son, who is a superb plastic modeler, has some reservations about my BMC nuttiness. He is more the rivet counter type of guy in modeling and is a little puzzled about my affection for these rudimentary little relics. However, he learned his modeling passion from me so patience with Dad’s collections is the motto.
I have never done a “blog” before so I am unfamiliar with the protocols. It is really time consuming. You have my Email address so if it is appropriate, later on we can communicate through that method or go low-tech and can use the
Later, if you live close to Alameda, we can compare notes and see each other’s fleets! Thank Zeus; there is one more out there who ponders the BMC lore!


  1. Hi Jack,

    Boy am I pleased to have found you! I have a modest selection of these models - mostly the Minifigs 'copies' - and absolutely love them! I am a wargamer first and foremost and so the models I have will be painted in due course and used for a couple of fictional navies. I own four die cast ships - a Lord Nelson (I also have the Minifigs copy), a pair of Swiftsures and a single B3 which is a pretty generic looking battleship of the era. I also own around thre dozen assorted Minifigs cruisers and destroyers.

    My big ask is do you have any numbers you have that are spare for sale or for trade?

    I am currently negotiating to have copies of these models professionally moulded and cast so they can be available again (not the full range - primarily the pre dreadnought era models) so any new models to add to my own collection would be welcome.

    Drop me a line to discuss if you are interested or even if not - it is great to have access to you and your knowledge of these charming models.

    All the best and a happy new year to you,

    David Crook

    PS I am also in contact with Steve Cady over these models as well!

  2. Hi, Jack.

    Great post on BMC lore. Don't know how we missed the connection. Feel free to shoot me an e-mail at "cpl_trim at yahoo dot com". We are close enough in Northern California to hook up and look at the models.

    Best regards,

  3. Hi Jack,

    I can only echo Steve here - please email me on as I have some news re the ships you may be interested in! I would also love the opportunity to swap stories about these models and possibly have a rummage through your spares!

    Seriously though, I am arranging to have some of these models (primarily the Minifigs style pre dreadnaught models) professionally moulded and available again privately but need to lay my hands on an HMS Canopus and one of the strangely named early turret ship number 14 (rumoured to be HMS Edgar). Would you be able to help with this at all? Please email me to discuss as I would love to find out more about these fascinating models.

    Many thanks in advance,

    David Crook