During the 19th century, shipwrights created exact scale half hull models, a construction plan for a ship’s hull design and its particular curvature “sheer”. These were mounted and displayed in admiralty and shipping offices, and now sell at auction as decorative nautical art.
Narrow for their length, Clippers of the mid-19th C. were fast ships with three masts and a square rig. The era of the Clipper Ships began in 1843 with a growing demand for the rapid transport of tea from China, and continued with the gold discoveries in California and Australia of 1848 and 1851 until the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869.
Sailor’s lore characterizes the ship as a living being, with the figure at the bow as her soul. Often a mixture of religious, historical or mythological significance, a figurehead inspired all those who lived and worked on the vessel. The Thermopylae’s figurehead is King Leonidas of Sparta, leader of one of histories’ most famous last stands, and symbolizes courage against overwhelming odds.