Friday, October 28, 2011

Collectible and Rare -The Steamboat Model /Rex Stewart

When New York celebrated its Hudson-Fulton Event in 2007, followed by the NY 400 Celebration of HALF MOON and Henry Hudson's namesake river, every museum and society between Albany and New York City had exhibitions.

From paintings, photographs and models, to fundraisers and lectures. Everything  river-related was shown. But what many facilities didn't have to support these venues were steamboat models. I reviewed every exhibition in the Hudson Valley and discovered only a few good models were shown from the hundred or so I produced in my studio.

These events indicated that those who owned these small gems did not want to part with them for public exhibition. Also on the antique circuit while showing at Brimfield, MA many buyers desired the NANTUCKET model and, when it was sold others who returned to the booth commissioned models that were from other regions in the Northeast. This event also brought awareness that steamboat models were very much in demand, especially to the connessiour who knew these were rare collectibles.

Exploring further, at auctions, few of these items surfaced and to my awe I learned that a simple folk art model sold for $15,000. Occasionally a high-quality detailed model would enter an auction floor and be swooped up by a knowledgeable buyer/collector. A few of my models were recently sold highend or slightly below their original value which dispell the myth that these aren't in demand as contemporary works.

                                 Antique folk art model of a Mississippi sidewheeler.

If one look upon today's shipmodel industry, it's apparent that there are less than twenty or so good models promoted as kits. Some are expensive and others are moderately priced. When built, depending on how much detail is involved, can become a highend collectible. Yet understand that these are kits. Beyond the kit types are models of another class, the scratchbuilt and folkart divisions. Folk art pieces are those works that are crude in appearance and simplistic in detail. However, because of rarity, these are highly sought after. Many were produced during the heydey of steamboating by crew members who wanted display pieces to remember the vessel they served on.

The highend collectible that would be most desirable to the serious buyer would be the thoroughly researched scratchbuilt model. These are called 'special class' or 'builder's models -the best of the best.

     A rare 'Rex Stewart' model of the famous Hudson River sidewheeler DANIEL DREW
    in the corporate boardroom of Bank Of America. A rare steamboat print accents the

The more famous the vessel...the fewer built as models...the higher the price. Many dealers won't disclose this, but it's a fact.

At the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C. there is a Hudson River Day Line model of HENDRICK HUDSON. That model was donated to the Museum by the Olcott family, owners of that Line. However, one of the family heirs commissioned a model from my studio and that model is today exhibited at the Hudson River Maritime Museum in Kingston, New York. Seldom are these models at auction and few are made.

In the past twenty years steamboat models have exceeded expectations at auction venues -and models that represent the Northeast Corridor of the USA are quickly bidded upon and sold. Furthermore, those collectors whom I visited either owned a steamboat print or painting and desired a model to accent those heirlooms which, in essence, became a nice balance.

       A rare contemporary diorama showing the island steamer NANTUCKET carrying
       passengers to the mainland as it passes a bouy and catboat on a summer afternoon
       in 1890. Wood-sculpted collectible produced at the studio of the author.

Because steamboat collecting is a new trend, brought about in the 1960s; this unique category is fast becoming a field to watch.

           A 'Rex Stewart' model that sold in New York City at Bonham Auction in April
           2011 for $5,538.00. A wood model that was considered high-quality and one of
           the few in its category to supercede other bids.

Some thirty years ago, after producing over a hundred models, I encouraged investors to acquire them. Not so much because I produced them, but because miniature gems were part of an era fading into the annals of history and becoming an Americana heirloom.

The American steamboat, as we know it, is no longer. The only remnant to the Northeast steamer are the scale models I faithfully produce. They can't be copied or found anywhere except in Central Massachusetts where they are researched and built with blueprint-precision.

These are the highend models of today...a rare and valuable collectible of yesteryear, the steamboat.

For more information about commissioning a fine quality Hudson River or Northeast steamboat model email: or call 1-774-757-7137. You may also visit

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