Wonderful Models (Percival Marshall, 1927)

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Wonderful Models was a two-volume encyclopedia of models published in installments from 1927 to 1928 by Percival Marshall. The encyclopedia started with an introduction by Marshall on the importance of models, part of which is transcribed below.

Wonderful Models

... anyone who studies the subject of model-making, whether from the historical, educational, or technical point of view, or from the aspect merely of clever craftsmanship, must inevitably come to the conclusion that good models really are very wonderful things. I should not be making an extravagant claim if I said that a model steam engine was the starting point of England's industrial greatness, for it was when repairing a model engine that James Watt conceived the idea of the separate condenser. This invention revolutionised the steam engine as a source of industrialised power and made possible the enormous manufacturing progress of the last century. The first successful locomotive in this country was a model, made by William Murdoch in 1786, and engineering history is full of instances of experimental work with models leading to important advances being made in real practice.

The supremacy of British shipbuilding has always been linked up with wonderful models. More than a hundred years ago the Admiralty of that time had a standing order that every new ship planned should first be built in model form. To-day models of great warships and ocean liners are built and tested in large experimental tanks, before a stroke of work on the real ship is done. Valuable data on hull formation and speed possibilities are obtained from these important experiments.

The modern art of aviation also owes much to experimental work with models, not only in the early days of flying, but in connection with researches into present problems.

In architecture and building, models play an important part; even the great Christopher Wrenn himself built models to illustrate his proposed designs, while to-day, the modelling in advance of important new buildings, is a regular practice. The new Bank of England has already been modelled from the architect's plans. In scientific invention and research, including electricity, physics, anatomy, geology, and indeed almost every branch of study, models are of the greatest service, and numberless examples of their utility in the advancement of knowledge can be quoted. Clerk Maxwell, one of the most distinguished physicists of the last century, devised many models to represent the mechanical construction of the aether, and indeed some of the most abstruse mental conceptions become immediately clear when they are converted into models in wood, metal or cardboard. For this reason models occupy a recognised place in all branches of education. In elementary schools young children are taught by means of models, and are encouraged to give expression to their own ideas by reproducing them in solid form with simple modelling materials. Every engineering and technical college includes in its equipment numbers of models of mechanical structures and machinery details, for laboratory and lecture room use.

The inventor of any new appliance nearly always begins by making a model. The vision of his brain becomes a concrete fact. He can not only see with his own eyes how far his theories hold good in practice, but he can ascertain if and where they need improvement, and he can present his ideas to others in a readily understood form. The demonstration value of models is receiving a rapidly growing recognition in the field of business. They are ideal for exhibition purposes, since apart from their attractive appearance, they enable large machines and other products to be exhibited in a miniature form, where, by reasons of space alone, the original of the model could not possibly be shown.. Moreover, salesmen can carry a model of a machine here, there, and everywhere to demonstrate to possible purchasers.

The uses of models as historical records are too obvious to need emphasis. Every museum contains examples, the value of which is constantly increasing as the years go by. The Egyptians, the Chinese, and other ancient races of the world practised model-making, and the productions of the craftsmen in miniature of centuries ago have contributed in no small measure to our knowledge of the manners and customs of the past. So, too, will models made to-day preserve, for our descendants, a visible record of the life of our own times.

Models are wonderful things from varying points of view. Some excite our admiration from the beautiful craftsmanship which has been expended on their construction, others because of some cleverness of conception or invention, and others again because of the testimony they bear to the remarkable patience and application of the builder. This may be true of a model that has no moving parts, , but when we consider the subject of working models we have even more reason for yielding to amazement. Picture a miniature locomotive, three or four feet long, perfectly proportioned, hauling by its own steam power, a load of ten or a dozen grown-up people. Or, again, imagine a tiny power boat, which you could carry comfortably under your arm, recording a speed of over forty miles an hour against a stop-watch. These are not visions of the future, they exist to-day, and are truly wonders of engineering in miniature.

The value of model-making as a recreation does not always receive the full recognition it deserves. Thousands of people occupied in strenuous commercial or professional work turn to model engineering for mental relaxation. Doctors, lawyers, artists, and musicians, find healthful occupation and recreation in the home workshop, and some of them produce most beautiful examples of craftsmanship. The finest scale model locomotive in the country, the spare time work of a doctor, now reposes in the Art Gallery at Brighton. Clubs and Societies where model-making enthusiasts gather together have been established in all parts of the world in recent years, and afford much pleasant social intercourse through a community of interest in wonderful models.

A model may be constructed in a few minutes from very simple materials, yet it may show perfectly the basic principle of a very important invention; or it may be a most elaborate piece of handicraft occupying almost a lifetime in its execution. Some remarkable models are made for the outlay of only a few pence or a few shillings, and there are others which cost thousands of pounds. The art of the model maker has no set limits; its manifestations are truly remarkable in their interest and their variety.


— , Percival Marshall, , Wonderful Models, , 1927