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U.S. Navy Miniature Models

by Harry Rinker (07/27/09).

The tag on the case reads: “mfg by South Salem Studios, South Salem, N.Y.”

The tag on the case reads: “mfg by South Salem Studios, South Salem, N.Y.”

When open, the case has 30 compartments, some holding more than one ship.

When open, the case has 30 compartments, some holding more than one ship.

A model of a destroyer.

A model of a destroyer.

These models had some fine detail work, including booms and anti-aircraft guns

These models had some fine detail work, including booms and anti-aircraft guns

QUESTION: I own a case of miniature models labeled “U.S. Navy Miniature Models, USN Bureau of Aeronautics, Special Services Division.”  I assume that these models were a teaching tool to teach individuals to identify U.S. Navy ships during World War II.  The case measures 27 inches x 14 1/2 inches.  When open, the case has 30 compartments, some holding more than one ship. There are a total of 45 miniature ships, which are extremely delicate and highly detailed.

Each ship is screwed to a piece of quarter-inch plywood and everything is painted Navy gray. Each ship has its name on it. On the bottom of the plywood is the manufacturer’s name and type of ship. The tag on the case reads: “mfg by South Salem Studios, South Salem, N.Y., Contract No. Na(s)-1846.”

A few of the ships are made by “Comet Metal Products Co. Inc., Richmond Hill N.Y.”  Considering age and use, the ships are in good to excellent condition. A few have  bent masts and there are a couple of very, very small pieces in a bag. I purchased this at auction several years ago and now have an opportunity to sell it.  I would like to know more about my set and its approximate value.

–  LM, Jasper, IN

ANSWER: According to Henry I. Kurtz and Burtt R. Ehrlich’s “The Art of the Toy Soldier” (Abbeville Press, 1987): “With the outbreak of war in Europe, Comet began angling for a U. S. government contract to produce small-scale identification models of warships, military vehicles, and aircraft. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor brought those efforts to fruition, and within a few days after American’s entry into the war, the Comet plant in Richmond Hill, NY, was running on a round-the-clock, seven-day schedule producing scale models for the War Department. A retrospective New York Times article (Sept. 13, 1959) noted that ‘from 1941-1945 Comet produced more than 10,000,000 models of defense items.’”

Abraham Slonim founded Comet in 1919 as a die-casting firm. The firm developed a time-saving centrifugal casting apparatus in the 1930s. As the 1930s ended, the firm looked to expand its product line and in 1940 Comet introduced its line of “Brigadiers for Metal Soldiers.”  The company sold primarily to department stores such as Brooklyn’s Abraham & Straus. When World War II ended, Comet issued its soldiers and products under the Authenticast trademark.

Individual ships sell between $20 and $25 in very good condition and $30 and $35 in fine condition. Assuming an average value of $25 per ship, your set has a “book” value of $1,125.  While some may argue that I should add set value (an additional increase in value because you have a complete set), I am going to deduct a little. Today’s buyers expect a discount when buying in quantity. Your set has a value between $850 and $900.

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