Monday, November 2, 2015

The Muddled Heritage of the Pyro/Life-Like "Mayflower"

This was originally going to be part of a longer piece about the long shadow cast by the Dr. R.C. Anderson and L.A. Pritchard model of the "Mayflower" ("A Mayflower Model", as Anderson would write). Instead, this subject is unique enough to stand on its own. 
When the Pyro Plastics Company decided that they wanted to begin producing better model sailing ships, they chose a short cut; they simply made plastic models of wooden kits from nearby Model Shipways. Some of their early, larger models are simply copies, saving Pyro a lot of time and effort where research was concerned. In the mid-1960's, the company decided to introduce a new line of smaller ship models, ostensibly to replace the bathtub toy-like kits they had sold before. The sources for these kits were various, though notably a good many of them seem to be based upon the work of Björn Landström . They also produced some new, larger ships as well, three of which were also based upon this source. There were other sources, and there appeared to be no real logic behind some of the choices (the "Santa Maria" modeled, poorly, after the Duro/1892 version, with a slightly larger scale "Niña" and "Pinta" based upon the d'Albertis designs?). As I've written elsewhere in this blog, the quality of these kits varied greatly. It really seems as if Pyro was rushing to get these out as quickly as possible, which they did. 
Their little "Mayflower" was one of these kits, and it was one of my favorites. At a glance, it is a nice enough kit. The Life-Like box, though, is deceptive; it shows what appears to be the 1957 William Avery Baker variant. The original Pyro box used the same artwork

Inside, the model is different; it appears to be based upon the Anderson version.

Or is it?
My experience with some of the better Pyro kits has taught me that when they got a model right, they were pretty good. Their "Revenge" looks as if it has been lifted off of Mathew Baker's drafts, and even the hull section is close. If their "Mayflower" is of similar quality, shouldn't the same be the case?
As I began construction of this model, something bothered me that needed addressing; two anomalous gun ports on the main deck.  
I began construction anyway, blanking out those ports. It was as I was trying to find more information about the model's deck layout that important discoveries were made. 
In my quest for detail information, I sought any source of plans I could find. Since the Imai kit was based upon the Anderson variant, using the plans for it seems logical. However, Imai made some mistakes, such as referring to the knights as "vents". That was when I discovered that the great E. Armitage McCann had designed a "Mayflower" model, based upon the Anderson variant, for a series that ran in Popular Science in 1928. Most of this series is on line, but the deck and rigging plans are not among them. 
It was another search that started to be a bit revealing. I was steered to the website "Solid Model Memories", and it was there, under the "Other Ships" category that I found an incomplete scan of some very old "Mayflower" plans from "The Model Shop", an English company. Drawn by one T.R. Kennedy, it is clearly based upon the Anderson version.

The plans are simplified, and the lines are not nearly full enough to match what I could see in the pictures I have of the Anderson version. It was this point that I began to notice that the Pyro/Life-Like kit actually had more in common with these plans. There were still differences, though, and I wanted to know; why the deck guns?
I finally found the answer in an eBay search. Someone was selling the decals for the Keelbilt model, and I immediately noticed that those markings resembled the markings on Kennedy drawings. I started to dig for images of the Keelbilt kit, to no avail. However, also on eBay, someone was selling the old Megow kit. Here was the final clue.

The Megow kit appears to postdate the Keelbilt model, and indeed might be based upon it. It also has much in common with the Kennedy-TMS plans.

Sail plans. Kennedy-TMS to the left, Megow right.

Compared to the Kennedy plans, it is a definitive derivative. Both the Megow kit and the Kennedy plans use the same style fittings, such as a later design for a capstan. Aside from some details, the Megow model actually appears to be better than the Kennedy plans; this may have been the case with the Keelbilt kit as well.
The stern markings, not shown, match those on the Kennedy drawings, and resemble those found on the Pyro tooling.

The final detail were the guns. They are not found on the Kennedy plans, but are found in the Megow kit.

With most other details, there is a match to the plastic kit, albeit the latter is simpler. Even the hull shape appears derived from the Megow kit.
In other words, the Pyro kit was copied from the Megow kit, and simplified. It is not so much based upon the Anderson design as derived from it. The only kits that were definitively based upon the Anderson design are the original wooden Model Shipways solid hull kit, and the Imai plastic model.
This information is a bit sobering. This means that, at best, the old Pyro/Life-Like model can be said to have been based upon the Anderson design for a merchant ship from the period of the "Mayflower". It is not the same.
Should the model be set aside then? 
Absolutely not. I am currently well into the model. The final result will be something of a hybrid, retaining most of its Pyro/Megow heritage, but with a new deck plan that better matches the Anderson original. 
With any luck, it will resemble most the latter.

(I'd like to thank the people at "Solid Model Memories" for uploading the Kennedy/The Model Shop plans, as well as Richard from Castlefront for his image of the Megow plans)

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