Why do we have models?
It’s a very simple question, but have you considered this?
What motivated the first modellers?
Archaeologists have found crude figures from very early civilisations and usually assume these were toys, or worshipped in some way. The modern parallel to Hornby’s earlier models of ‘The Flying Scotsman’ and ‘Mallard’ is self-evident
Egyptian pharaohs were buried with models of chariots and boats which are thought to be for his use in the afterlife. The absence of any Scalextric, or model railway sets may show that they were handed down to the next generation. This lineage presumably ended with Cleopatra, who ‘just didn’t get it’ and these have now been lost as ancient landfill under Cairo.
The Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huang di’s famous terracotta army was also made for his use after death. To me they look more like a queue of frustrated rail commuters. Maybe they are part of a huge model railway still waiting to be discovered!
But more seriously
So we know that models or toys have been around for millennia. Other than any ritual significance what are they for?
A model of an object can be instructional to either demonstrate or evaluate its form, or function, such as the model aircraft made during the war to allow air-gunners to recognise enemy aircraft, or a wind tunnel model of a racing car.
Modelling allows us to demonstrate our manual skills and individuality to produce an image of what we find attractive or interesting, in a similar way to representational sculpture, or painting.
Models allow you to have an object of desire that most of us, for financial, practical, or just space limitations can not have. This applies to dolls, model Ferraris, a Class 47 diesel train, tanks, planes, etc. The obvious exception to the rule is Pete Waterman, as he can afford an actual locomotive, the model of the locomotive and even the company to make the model locomotive.
Modelling helps us relax and occupy our off-work time. Quite often, but not always, the subjects are a contrast to our daily work, more akin to the job we really want to do or allowing us to revert to a more imaginative state.
Modelling appeals to our sense of nostalgia and even our ego, as modelling allows us to create the world as we would like it. If anyone has ever said ‘when I’m Prime Minister it will be like this…’ with a model railway it can be.
Having started collecting models, it’s not unusual for the obsessive-compulsive part of the psyche to at least partly emerge. It could be collecting all of the subjects of one theme such as this year’s Grand Prix cars, all the items produce by one manufacturer, or all the variations possible of one type of subject such as coal wagons or the Ford Cortina.
Collecting models can be an investment. Pleasure in an object is often advised by experts as the primary reason for purchasing any non-essential item, but some rare models can be extremely valuable. This has been recognised by manufacturers who produce limited editions of items. This is partly self-defeating as the announcement results in the majority of those in the market for this item making sure they get hold of one, preserving it and not being in the market anymore. The reality is that the valuable objects are those that are produced in surprisingly low numbers, were already expensive when originally sold, or have mostly disappeared by decay or destruction. On the whole modelling as an investment is usually just an excuse.
In short, it’s much more than ‘just a bit of fun’, but I hope this hasn’t taken the fun out of it.
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