Antiques Magazine - July 2023, Cowes Week: Marine and Nautical antiques & collectables - ANTIQUES.CO.UK

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    Cowes Week: Marine and Nautical antiques & collectables

    Posted by Chris on 22/07/2023

    Cowes Week: Marine and Nautical antiques & collectables

    Early August marks one of Britain’s biggest sporting events of the year: Cowes Week.

    In this article, we’re exploring the history of Cowes Week, and what makes it so special, before delving into the fascinating world of marine and nautical antiques and collectables.

    Photo: King George V at Cowes Week Regatta, Yacht "Britannia", Wikimedia Commons.

    In this article:


    What is Cowes Week?

    One of the UK’s longest running sporting events, Cowes Week has been held every year since 1826, and is a key highlight of the British sporting summer and packed yachting calendar.

    Traditionally, Cowes Week takes place after Glorious Goodwood (first week of August) and before the Glorious Twelfth (the first day of the grouse shooting season, on August 12th). Sometimes – like 2023 – the traditional dates are changed to ensure the best racing, due to the tides or to avoid a clash with another significant sporting event like the Olympic Games.

    Like other famous British sporting events such as Wimbledon, Queens and Royal Ascot, Cowes Week attracts royalty, rock stars and many other famous faces.



    we’re exploring the history of Cowes Week, and what makes it so special, before delving into the fascinating world of marine and nautical antiques and collectibles

    Image: Queen Victoria's summer residence, Osborne House, near Cowes. Source: Wikimedia Commons.


    If you’ve never heard of Cowes, we’re not talking about the large bovine animals found in fields…it’s a seaport town on the north tip of the Isle of Wight, a small island just off the south coast of England.

    Cowes, and its sister town across the river, East Cowes, are well known around the globe for yachting and royalty.

    Much of the town's architecture is still heavily influenced by the style of ornate building that Prince Albert popularised in the mid-19th century.

    Just across River Medina Queen Victoria’s beloved summer holiday home, the imposing Osborne House, dominates the landscape.

    These two towns are divided by the river but united in being the gateway to the Island for traffic from the Red Funnel Southampton ferries.

    Charles Godfrey Leland's 19th-century verses describe the towns poetically as "The two great Cowes that in loud thunder roar/This on the eastern, that the western shore".


    History of Cowes Week

    we’re exploring the history of Cowes Week, and what makes it so special, before delving into the fascinating world of marine and nautical antiques and collectibles

    Image: The Alarm winning the Ladies Challenge Cup. At Cowes Augt. 1830. Attribution.


    It doesn’t sound like much these days, but at the first race – the Gold Cup – in 1826, the prize value of £100 (around £13,000 in today’s money) was competed for by just seven yachts under the flag of the Royal Yacht Club (later becoming the Royal Yacht Squadron in 1833).

    The following year, King George IV officially marked the event by presenting the King's Cup, and the event became known as Cowes Regatta. Starting as a three-day event, it soon extended to four days, and immediately became part of the social calendar.

    Through the early 1900s, the Cowes Regatta continued to develop with elegant 23-, 19- and 15-metre boats, followed by J-class boats later in the 1930's.

    Post World War II, the regatta grew in both size and popularity. Nearby clubs organised racing either side of the three days, and the King's Cup was replaced by the Britannia Cup, presented to the Royal Yachting Association by King George VI in 1950.

    By 1953 the event had grown to nine days of racing, and each club ran its own event with its own sailing instructions, racing marks and even start and finish lines. You can see how this became confusing!

    In 1964, the late HRH Prince Philip suggested that Cowes Combined Clubs should be formed to run and organise the regatta, along with the Cowes Town Regatta Committee. This helped standardise and simplify everything: the Royal Yacht Squadron line became the universal start line and there was one set of sailing instructions and racing marks for the Week.

    Cowes Combined Clubs represents the seven clubs involved in managing the racing: Royal Yacht Squadron, Royal London Yacht Club, Royal Thames Yacht Club, Royal Southampton Yacht Club, Royal Southern Yacht Club, Island Sailing Club and Royal Ocean Racing Club.

    Today, over 500 boats and 5,000 competitors compete in up to 40 different handicap, one-design and multihull classes race every day for a week. This wide range of classic and ultra-modern designs sets the regatta apart from any other sporting event of its kind.


    Why do the Brits love sailing so much?

    we’re exploring the history of Cowes Week, and what makes it so special, before delving into the fascinating world of marine and nautical antiques and collectibles

    Image: British (English) School; English Ships and the Spanish Armada, August 1588; National Maritime Museum


    Stretching back to the Elizabethan superiority over the Spanish Armada, Britain has long considered itself a naval superpower. Whether that’s still the case is up for debate, but the ability to navigate the waves certainly enabled Britain to exert its influence around the world for hundreds of years.

    Great Britain is also a set of islands – so in order to get anywhere or explore the world, sailing has been a crucial part of our history, and engrained into our identity.

    The latent effect of this is a keen national interest in sailing sports: Cowes Week, Henley Regatta, and The Oxford-Cambridge University Boat Race to name a few.

    Since sailing was introduced to the Olympic Games in 1896, Team GB has taken home over 60 medals – positioning Great Britain as one of the world’s most successful competitive sailing teams.

    So it’s no surprise that we are a nation of seagoers – and show a keen interest in maritime history and antiques.


    Maritime and nautical antiques

    we’re exploring the history of Cowes Week, and what makes it so special, before delving into the fascinating world of marine and nautical antiques and collectibles


    Cowes Week, for any sailing fans, is certainly one of the pinnacles of the year. And it’s a great entry point into the world of antiques and collectables.

    They’re certainly a niche genre of market – and it’s not for everyone. Nevertheless, interest in maritime and nautical antiques is still strong; often they’re popular in countries with plenty of coastline, such as the UK, the coastal Americas, and some Nordic countries.

    Like any items classed as antique, the provenance of pieces tell superb stories, and have special qualities of the ‘otherworldliness’ of seafaring culture.


    What do we mean by maritime & nautical?

    Essentially, maritime and nautical antiques and collectibles refer to any items related to sailing. You will find a wide range of items such as ship’s wheels, mastheads, compasses, telegraphs, ship models, pond yachts, yachting trophies, nautical instruments, mariner’s craftwork, photographs of classic ships and boats, and more.

    These items maintain their popularity thanks to their connection with nautical heritage and a rich tapestry of historical storytelling.

    Because of this, age is often correlated positively correlated with value. A Viking figurehead or 19th century compass will always be more sought than, for example, a 1980s piece in mint condition. Generally an item that is rare will garner more attention and demand than something that is common and readily available, and at auction these will attract higher prices.



    Top picks: maritime and nautical antique pieces on

    These are just a small selection of pieces listed on our site - scroll down to take a look, or see the full range via the link at the bottom.


    Model Ship "Constitution Of 1797"

    Model Ship

    Price: £1,125



    C.1900s Lead Ship Money Box – “Andenken Aus Warschau”

    C.1900’S Lead Ship Money Box – “Andenken Aus Warschau”

    Price: £85



    Large Antique Ship's Serving Table, c.1910

    Large Antique Ship's Serving Table, English, Butler's Stand, Edwardian, C.1910

    Price: £985



    Ship's Smoke Room Sign

    Antique Ship's Smoke Room Sign, English, Leather Frame, Decorative, Victorian

    Price: £950



    Large Antique Ship's Chest

    Large Antique Ship's Chest, English, Ebonised Pine, Workman's Trunk, Victorian

    Price: £895



    Edwardian Quality Cut Glass Ship's Decanter, d.1910

    Antique Edwardian Quality Cut Glass Ships Decanter

    Price: £245



    Original Ship’s Lamp

    Ships Lamp Antique All Original

    Price: £495



    Hand-Painted Wooded Shipping Company Sign, c.1900


    Hand Painted Wooded Shipping Company Sign

    Price: £980



    Cast Gun Metal Ship's Wheel on Stand

    Cast Gun Metal Ships Wheel On Stand

    Price: £700



    Teak and Brass Set 8-Spoke Ship's Wheel, c.1880


    Antique 4ft Diam Teak And Brass Set 8-Spoke Ships Wheel C 1880 19th Century

    Price: £1,250



    Antique Fireplace Ship Compendium Set

    Antique Fireplace Ship Compendium Set

    Price: £325



    Ship's Bulkhead Barometer, c.1900

    Antique Ship's Bulkhead Barometer, English Brass, Maritime Instrument, Victorian

    Price: £975



    Vintage Ship’s Bearing Plate

    Vintage Ships Bearing Plate, English, Maritime, Compass, Navigation, Ornament

    Price: £635



    Georgian Ship’s Mooring Bitt, c.1800

    Antique Ships Mooring Bitt, Maritime Bollard, English, Capstan, Georgian, C.1800

    Price: £895



    Vintage Master Ship's Bell

    Vintage Master Ship's Bell, English, Bronze, Maritime, Nautical Interest, C.1930

    Price: £495



    Pair of Chrome Ship’s Bulkhead Clock & Barometer

    Antique Pair Of Chrome Ships Bulkhead Clock And Barometer

    Price: £900



    Smiths Astral Bulkhead Ship’s Clock

    Smiths Astral Bulkhead Ships Clock

    Price: £750



    Charles Waterton's Original Shipping Trunk

    Charles Waterton's Original Shipping Trunk

    Price: £350



    View our full range of marine and nautical antiques

    There are plenty of fine marine and nautical items on If you've enjoyed this selection, why not explore the full range.

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