George F. Campbell
The neophyte shipmodeller`s jackstay
Elizabethan ships often had a lion or dragon as their figurehead. The lion as in Fig. 33D. middle 17th century, was common to most naval ships in Europe and leaned backwards grotesquely in a grand sweep of the stern known as "the sweep of the lion". It was an ugly brute with the lower part in two halves, one each side of the head knee, and the style of the crown on its head conformed to the type of crown of the country or origin. The lion was in vogue until about the late l7th century when individual figureheads were adopted for larger naval ships and by the middle 18th century they were common to the smalle craft too.
The stem head came less upright through the centuries until the mid 19th century when the clipper type stem meant the figure-head took a near horizontal posture like that in 33H, which was common to early steamships, and clippers, and later to the last windjammers and private yachts. Whatever the posture of the figure, the face should always be looking out over the horizon ahead and not downward.
Some of the ironclad ram bowed warships of the last century had enormous cast iron figureheads covering most of the bows. One of these could be seen on a hulk in the Medway, England, until 1960 —an excellent example of ironworkers' art. Plaque'type figureheads are today enjoying a revival on many ocean freighters.
Use the billet head on smaller craft such as coasting schooners. The Down Easters of the last half 19th century often carried a rather elongated billet head. It's not an easy job even for experts to discover the exact figure for a particular ship, as even during the parsimonious naval periods when ships were launched with common emblems, it was frequently the case that the commander, out of his own pocket, (and the liberal help of a rascally purser) substituted a carved figure of his own fancy.
Coloring — Up to the early 19th century highly colored figures red and blue and green predominated, with gilt, yellow or red for the lions. From mid 19th century onwards usually plain white with perhaps colored hair and dress hemlines only, although many colorful ones could still be found, chiefly in Mediterranean areas. Plain white looks best for a clipper or windjammer.