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Treasures from retired ships
2002 / FEBRUARY

When ships whose weary timbers have been bleached by the sun and battered by the waves over years of voyaging finally succumb to age, their helms, lanterns, compasses, bells, logs and charts become nautical antiques, telling their tales of the maritime past long after the ships themselves have become scrap. Equipment from newer ships prematurely retired as a result of fire, accident or malfunctions are also sought by collectors. For a maritime object to be of value it must be original, with none of its parts replaced or altered for decorative purposes, and it must have actually been used on a ship. This means that a lantern scratched or cracked in the course of duty is more collectable than a pristine one that has never been to sea. Rarity also affects the interest and value of a piece, so that if a ship is equipped with twenty lanterns and one whistle, for example, the whistle is going to be the more collectable item. Pieces bearing makers' plaques giving the year and place of manufacture are preferred, and the value also varies according to the ship to which they belonged.

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Treasures from retired ships
2002 / FEBRUARY

Those belonging to steamships are the most desirable. Many of the parts once made of copper or brass are today made of plastic and aluminium, so it seems unlikely that those from ships made during the last 20 years will ever acquire much value. Nautical antiques is a classification that covers a broad range of objects relating to ships or the sea in some way. They do not necessarily have to belong to a ship that is no longer afloat, or even to a ship at all. Model ships, cruise posters, divr'ss helmets, and paintings of nautical subjects all count, as do cufflinks belonging to a captaisng uniform, ship's coffee services, and so on. Copper and brass objects are polished and then may be varnished to prevent them tarnishing. Minor alterations, such as wiring a ship's lantern for use as a decorative lamp, may be carried out so long as the alteration does not affect the originality of the object. These lanterns are popular in restaurants, hotels and offices. Nautical antique collecting is widespread in many countries, particularly Britain, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Italy.

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Treasures from retired ships
2002 / FEBRUARY
In Turkey, interest in maritime antiques goes back to the early 1980s, and and today there are two workshops specialising in the cleaning and restoring of nautical antiques. Copper ship's lanterns which used to be sold by the kilo for scrap are now sought after by appreciative collectors, and can be worth thousands of dollars. Remembering that Istanbul's Municipal Ferryboat Company, which dates back to Ottoman times, is the largest of its kind in the world, Turkey would have possessed a very much larger store of nautical antiques if collectors had become interested earlier. Large numbers of historic ships and their contents have gone as scrap, such as Mustafa Kemal Atatürk's yacht the Ertuğrul, whose engine was refitted onto an asphalt laying machine. More recently, however, ferryboats such as the Kalender, Ülef and Burgaz, and steam-driven car ferries such as the Hüseyin Haki, Semsi Pasa, Orhan Erdener and Hürriyet have been luckier, and their contents have found their way into the hands of collectors, many of whom come from abroad,
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Treasures from retired ships
2002 / FEBRUARY

especially Britain, to buy antiques from Turkey. When ships are scrapped, they are dismantled at Aliaga near Izmir on the Aegean, and it is here that the antique dealers come to retrieve all the parts that are of interest to nautical antique collectors. Even damaged pieces can be worth restoring. Another source of nautical antiques is clearouts of old stock by government departments and companies, which for example recently revealed diving helmets that had been imported from England in the early 20th century. Auction sales and exchanges between collectors are other ways of acquiring objects. Surprisingly few pieces are to be found in antique shops, since owners tend to hang onto their collections, and if obliged to sell prefer to exchange or merely sell a few pieces when in straightened circumstances. A backlash of the high demand for nautical antiques has been the rise in modern reproductions and fakes, so collectors must learn to beware of these, many of which are made in the Far East.

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Treasures from retired ships
2002 / FEBRUARY

Some of these replicas are so well made that they are hard to tell from the originals and can fetch high prices. A bit of homework and careful examination before buying is the way to avoid this pitfall. For example, knowledgeable collectors are aware that original sextants contain a card bearing the date and stamp, whereas replicas do not. One of the best ways to get the necessary background knowledge into the interesting subject of maritime history is to visit museums. Turkish museums with many nautical exhibits include the Naval Museum, the Maritime Lines Museum and Rahmi Koç Industrial Museum, all of which are in Istanbul.

* Erdem Kabadayi is a freelance writer

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