National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of Billethead from Ship Billethead from Ship "Favorite"
Rendered by Hazel Hyde (artist), c. 1938
watercolor, colored pencil, and graphite on paperboard
overall: 27.8 x 38.2 cm (10 15/16 x 15 1/16 in.) Original IAD Object: 22" high
Index of American Design
1943.8.8077
Not on View
From the Tour: Woodcarving from the Index of American Design
Object 4 of 26

The billethead, in use for centuries, was common in America between 1830 and 1880. An alternative to the figurehead, it was a less elaborate and costly decoration for a ship's bow. Despite its smaller size and lack of a nameable subject, carvers often lavished it with considerable attention. The liveliness of this example with its lush foliate design and crisp carving bespeaks an experienced and talented craftsman. At one time painted (the Index data sheet describes minute traces of black and salmon), its cracked and weather-beaten surface is evidence of its age and history. According to the records of the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, in whose collection the object has been since 1905, this billethead once decorated the ship Favorite. Built at Bath, Maine, in 1853, the Favorite plied a route between New Orleans and Boston, carrying a cargo of cotton, molasses, and sugar. She was wrecked off Salem harbor January 29, 1855.

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