Safely Shipping Ship Models

There were four ship models in collections storage representing USNS Hayes, USS Etlah, USS Croaker, and MSB 5. While they are interesting and well-done models that have been featured in several exhibits over the years, they do not belong to to the U.S. Naval Undersea Museum (USNUM). Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) has a large collection of ship models, cared for under the custody of the Curator of Ship Models in Carderock, MD. Among the diversity of their thousands of models are rare and unique ones, such as original builder’s models, and these four. The models were loaned to the museum in the early 1990s, and have been exhibited on and off over the last thirty years.

Much like with other artifacts on loan to the museum, since we do not have plans to exhibit them in the near future, staff reached out to the Curator of Ship Models about returning them. By going back to Carderock, they can receive conservation treatment if required, be available for other institutions to borrow, or support other Navy efforts.

Ship models are inherently fragile. Getting them to Maryland is more difficult than just putting them in a box and heading to FedEx. As with any object that USNUM ships, we want to make sure they arrive safely. For that reason, we worked with a fine art shipping company out of Seattle to have customized crates constructed for the models. Utilizing an inner ethafoam box supported by a custom crate, the models are protected from vibrations in transit. The models are held down in the box by taking advantage of flat portions which are more durable, and constructing ethafoam posts attached to arches to support these. These are able to avoid contacting any rigging or intricate and fragile parts, best protecting the objects. All of the materials used for the inner box are archival safe, so their contacting the models is not putting the models at risk. The crates are constructed for their single purpose trip to Maryland, but can also be used to safely store the models until the Curator of Ship Models next needs to transport or exhibit them.

While these types of crates are not inexpensive, the use of a custom crate is proof of USNUM’s collections care standards to the lender. We aim to uphold high standards for our own collections, and treat borrowed objects to this same standard. With this commitment, we hope the Curator of Ship Models will not hesitate to lend us models again to support future exhibits, though we wouldn’t keep them here for thirty years!