The Billet Head

A key piece of decorative woodwork was installed on the MORGAN.
Installing the Billet Head
Shipwright Matt Barnes fits the billet head onto the bow of the Charles W. Morgan

As the July 21 launch of the Charles W. Morgan nears, the Shipyard is hard at work completing the various tasks that need to be done before she can be lowered into the water to float on her own keel. One of the special jobs was the installation of the ship’s billet head, which was completed this afternoon.

The billet head is a decorative piece of woodwork that adorns the bow of a ship. In many cases it is a figurehead or a bust, but as the Morgan was a Quaker vessel her billet head was deliberately less ostentatious. The billet head and the eagle on the transom are actually the only decorative pieces on the entire ship.

The Morgan‘s billet head may not be flashy, but it is certainly beautiful as the pictures show. The current piece was carved in 1991 for the 150th anniversary of the ship’s launch in 1841. Shipwright Roger Hambidge was given the assignment to copy exactly the original which is presently stored in the Collections Research Center. He had to carefully determine the actual dimensions through many layers of paint, and then trace the outline of the decorations onto a wooden blank. After bandsawing it to a rough shape, it was all hand carving from there. The wood he used is one solid piece of white pine salvaged from a tornado-damaged church in western Connecticut.

Installing the Billet Head
The MORGAN’s billet head was carved from one solid piece of white pine.

The end result was so nice he was asked to carve another one that was presented to the Chubb Insurance Group in recognition of their longtime support of the Museum.

The billet head re-installed on the Morgan was sent out to have its gilding redone. Now freshly golden, it was fitted and fastened into place by shipwright Matt Barnes.

The Morgan will return to water in a public ceremony on Sunday, July 21.