Ship models built inside glass bottles have amazed viewers for centuries. Sailors had plenty of time on their hands in their off-duty hours, and a ready supply of bottles, wood, and cloth. They also had the requisite knowledge of ships and rigging to make accurate models. The trick was to build one inside a bottle when it was apparent to all viewers that it would not fit through the bottle’s neck. How was it done? The ship was built outside the bottle but the rigging was designed so that it laid down on the deck of the ship while it was inserted into the bottle. Then a single string was pulled that erected the masts and rigging inside the bottle. The masts were glued in place and finally the erecting string was cut and removed, leaving a fully rigged ship inside the bottle…that is, if everything went as planned.

This modern model is no doubt constructed in the traditional way, because the bottle is intact. Though not of the quality of some you will see in museums by the finest craftsmen, it is probably pretty typical of a real seaman’s model—and a pretty good one at that. The bottle stands about 12”-tall and the ship is about 5”-long. A US quarter in the photos provides scale reference.

Exhibit added: December 31, 2011 - Last modified: April 19, 2023

Presented by The Joe Martin Foundation for Exceptional Craftsmanship