Pen & Sword Military have produced the first volume of what will be a wonderful series of books. This is British Warship Recognition – the Perkins Identification Albums originally written/illustrated by Richard Perkins. This is Volume 1 dealing with Capital Ships 1895-1939 (ISBN 9781848323827).
First off I must note that this book is not for everybody. It is a book that you will either love or “just not get”. The older reader (and I count myself in that group) who can remember part of their childhood being spent with an exercise book, coloured pencils and a book on, say German World War 2 aircraft and who then spent hours redrawing the aircraft from the pictures in the book will “get” thins book. I can understand what Perkins was attempting. Had I been in his position and possessed half his talents I would probably have done the same thing.
Perkins was a keen amateur photographer and he photographed and ended up with one of the largest collections of photographs of warships. His collection of photos was bequeathed to the National Maritime Museum where it can still be seen today and where it forms the core of the historic photos naval section. Whole he was photographing he found many photographs were neither identified nor accurately dated. He then decided to compile an album of his own drawings incorporating as much detail as possible on the individual ships. He really looked closely at the details, the differences between ships of the same class and then differences in a vessel over time.
This project grew into an enormous resource covering virtually every Royal Navy ship from 1860 to 1939, when security restrictions forced Perkins to stop work.
The book is, in essence, a photographic reprint of Perkins’s original art books where he set about to draw and paint the British fleet. He then noticed over time that vessels changed – davits were moved forward, funnels thinned or thickened, smaller calibre weapons moved around the vessels, masts removed or changed and so on.
You will notice that I do not have any scanned images to illustrate but rather photographed off my phone. There is a reason for this. The book is big. A page was bigger than my scanner plate. I could not sit back in my favourite chair with this book in my lap. My lap is not big enough. To look through this I had the book placed on a table and work from there.
The book however in and of itself is superb and the drawings speak for themselves. Younger readers may not understand the significance of this work but all will be able to appreciate the art involved. This book belongs in the collection of any naval enthusiast or historian. Best of all, it is the first of 8 volumes. The next volume is due for release in September this year – it will deal with Armoured Ships 1860-1895, Monitors and Aviation Ships. I for one will be interested int he aviation ships extant before 1895.
As to Perkins’s first volume. One word.