The Whaling Museum has received a collection of 19 ships in a bottle, which will soon go on display.
When Jeff Kappel’s father, Lester, died in May at age 99, he said of his father’s collection, “I want it seen. My father collected for years and loved sharing his collection with people, and I want to continue that.”
The craft of ship in a bottle is a finely crafted and challenging folk art. The earliest surviving models date to the late 1700’s. Men at sea would spend hours turning discarded bottles into homes for small replicas of sailing ships. the model was created with complete but collapsible rigging, which was inserted folded into the neck of a bottle, set into a painted diorama, and had the sails raised.
For 65 years, Lester was a member of the Point Lookout / Lido Fire Department, serving as captain of the Lido company and fire commissioner for over five decades. He also joined the staff of the Long Beach Public Library in 1983.
The largest ship in a bottle in the collection “was found in Queens for $24. Whenever my father traveled, he would look for ships in a bottle to collect – and yet here in Queens was this find,” the son said.
Lester Kappel was not only a collector of ships in a bottle. He and his wife filled their home with antique firefighting equipment, wooden duck decoys, artwork, glass bottles, and household objects such as glove stretchers. The walls of his kitchen are lined with antique and vintage kitchen tools.
“We are very thankful to Jeff and the Kappel family for gifting these remarkable items to The Whaling Museum’s collection,” says Nomi Dayan, executive director. “This is a significant moment in helping us preserve and promote a unique part of our maritime heritage.”
A selection of ships in a bottle from this collection will be exhibited in the museum’s craft workshop by September and will be on display thereafter.