FENIX Museum for Migration acquires art deco miniatures; First Van Ryper ship models in Dutch museum

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FENIX Museum for Migration acquires art deco miniatures; First Van Ryper ship models in Dutch museum
Despite their modest size, Charles van Riper's wooden ship models have great expressiveness.

ROTTERDAM.- At the specialized Nautical Antique Extravaganza auction of Boston Harbor Auctions in Norwell (MA), the future FENIX Museum for Migration has managed to acquire seven models of ships of the Holland America Line that sailed between Rotterdam and New York. A striking part of this auction were the more than one hundred Van Ryper models that are very much sought after by enthusiasts. Replica miniatures of the Potsdam, Veendam, Statendam, Nieuw Amsterdam (2x), Volendam and Rotterdam will soon be exhibited in the permanent display of the future museum in Rotterdam. They are the first Van Ryper models to enter a Dutch museum collection.

Sought after objects
Despite their modest size, Charles van Riper's wooden ship models have great expressiveness. Between 1933 and 1962, more than 15,000 handmade miniature models were sold from a small workshop in Martha's Vineyard in the United States, under the old Dutch name of Van Ryper. The stylized, simple art deco shape is characteristic of the Van Ryper miniatures. The striking red bottom and waterline are just as iconic as the Louboutin shoe line. They found their way around the world as toys, souvenirs or promotional gifts in a fitting, also sleek packaging. Today, the Van Ryper models are sought after collectables. Many copies have been lost over time, but these endearing ships once adorned the boardrooms of shipping companies and the windows of travel agencies. The miniatures were also proudly owned by American presidents such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, himself a naval afficionado, and John F. Kennedy, who was an avid sailor.

All Van Ryper models were meticulous miniature versions of original ships. Made of poplar wood, finished with copper details and high-gloss car paint. In the workshop there were separate craftsmen, wood carvers, paint sprayers and assemblers for all different parts. Everything was aimed to make high-quality miniatures in mass production at an affordable price.

SS Statendam
Charles King Van Riper (1893 - 1964) came up with the idea of making and selling ship models when he made a miniature ferry for his son. Despite, or perhaps precisely because he was not a perfect woodworker, he was forced to simplify his ship models. His starting point was simple: "never, ever make just one of anything". The cutting of blocks of wood was done in small series, which kept the price low. Van Riper wanted to serve the middle class passengers, both domestic tourists who came to Vineyard in the Summer and the trans-Atlantic passengers who wanted a souvenir of their trip on the Statendam, Mauretania or Normandie on their mantelpiece after returning home.
Van Riper’s second insight was that his models did not need to include meticulously every detail of the ships they represented. "Enough" was his decree. Suggestion took precedence over meticulous imitation. Rows of lifeboats and portholes were abstracted, anchors and other details were simply omitted.

Pearl Harbor
The Travel Series, a collection of ships of almost all ocean liners that sailed to the United States, must have sold thousands. Billed as ‘’Models of Ships on Which You've Sailed’’, the buyer was encouraged to purchase a model for each sea voyage. The Travel Series bowl was a standard length of nine to eleven inches (approximately 25 centimeters) to encourage repeat sales and ensure a harmonious whole on the bookshelf. The 250 models in the 1937 brochure range in price from $ 3.50 to $ 10. The success of these models would soon lead to a new business unit where individuals could order a unique miniature replica of their own yacht. Due to the increasing threat of war, Van Ryper was also given orders to make so-called ‘’Recognitian Models’’ to teach recruits to recognize enemy ships, including, shortly before Pearl Harbor, Japan's entire imperial naval fleet consisting of 2,300 ships. The German and Italian fleets followed and the firm was in double garrison to meet the demand. After the war, Van Riper saw the demand for ship models slowly dry up. The slogan ‘’Models of Ships on which You've Sailed’’ had lost its appeal due to increasing air traffic. Shortly after Charles van Riper suffered a heart attack in 1960, he stopped producing ship models. The store continued to sell the stock empty for a short while and closed in 1962.

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