These are a few of our favourite things...Nicole Monjeau

By Nicole Monjeau

As I have now worked at the LRF Heritage & Education Centre for a year, I figured it was about time I wrote about my favourite thing. I am taking a slightly different approach, and have not chosen something from our 71 Fenchurch Street office. Instead, I have chosen material from our off-site archive.

Fukuin Maru - profile and midship plan

Profile and midship plan for Fukuin Maru, note the bow decoration or gingerbread work.

My favourite things are ship plans on Japanese paper. These items come from our Japanese port boxes, specifically the ports of Yokohama and Nagasaki. As far as I can tell, these are quite unique in our collection. Of the boxes I have surveyed and conserved so far, there are the only five ship plans on Japanese paper (as opposed to our more typical materials—tracing paper, drafting linen, and photoreproductive material like blueprints). The ship plans would have been draughted in the shipyard’s drawing office, and copies sent to LR for plan approval and to our surveyor to help inform their inspection of the ship.

Lloyd’s Register opened an office in Yokohama, Japan in 1885, where Captain John Efford was appointed to survey Japanese shipping line vessels and other vessels calling at Japanes ports. E James Ellerton was appointed a year later at Kobe. The first ship built to class in Japan was the Esmerelda, a wooden schooner built in 1888. During the First World War, Japanese shipbuilding became particularly notable. Many vessels were produced with great skill and speed for the allied war effort. During this period, surveyors in Japan rose from five in 1914 to 18 in 1918. Today, Lloyd’s Register still plays a large role in the Japanese shipping industry, with offices in Kobe, Nagasaki, and Yokohama.

We have one plan on Japanese paper in our material from the port of Yokohama. It is for the ship Fukuin Maru, built in 1899 and owned by the American Baptist Missionary Union. The plan shows the profile, deck, and midship sections of the ship. The surveyor of the ship was John Efford, the first surveyor appointed in Japan, as noted above.

Fukuin Maru plan 1

Fukuin Maru plan 2

The plan for the ship Fukuin Maru.

There are four ship plans on Japanese paper in our Nagasaki collection. One is a plan for the steel steamer Zambesi, built 1890. This is a plan which shows the drilling of test holes in the steel. The surveyor would have been looking to see if there was any reduction in the thickness of the steel of the hull. The yard draughtsman would have drawn the very precise plan, and the surveyor went in and marked where the test holes were drilled. This ship was surveyed by James Ellerton, the second surveyor appointed in Japan.

Zambesi profile plan showing position of test drill holes 1

Zambesi profile plan showing position of test drill holes 2

Profile plan for Zambesi, showing position of test drill holes.

We also have two plans from the ship Akunoura Maru, built during 1899-1900, which are very special. The plans contain a stamp from the dockyard, and the draughtsman has written his name. This is incredibly unique in our collection—in fact, we have not seen this before! A Mr. N. Yamamoto has drawn these lovely plans.

Akunoura Maru midship section 1

Akunoura Maru plan 2

The midship section plan for Akunoura Maru, with Mr. Yamamoto’s signature on the right.

Finally, we have a Main Deck plan for the steamer, Ta Hung, built 1900. Once again, we have the unique dockyard stamp with the initials of the draughtsman, N.Y., quite possibly the same draughtsman as above!

Main deck plan for Ta Hung

The Main Deck plan for Ta Hung.

I am particularly drawn to these for a couple reasons. First of all, they are beautiful. They have held up extremely well, and do not have the discolouration or brittleness that some plans in our collection have. The black ink against the soft Japanese paper makes for a delicate yet striking object. Second, I am drawn to these plans because Japanese paper is incredibly important to us paper conservators.  

Papermaking dates back to China in 105 CE. In the 5th century, the craft reached Japan. Japanese paper is traditionally made from the inner bark fibres of three different plants: kozo (mulberry), mitsumata (Edgeworthia chrysantha, a deciduous shrub), and gampi (Diplomorpha sikokiana, a tree).The plant fibres are soaked, and then cooked and rinsed. They are then hand-beaten, which forms the paper pulp. The pulp is mixed with water in a vat, and then scooped onto a screen and shaken. This shaking method spreads the fibres evenly over the screen, and forms the sheet of paper. Handmade Japanese paper, or washi, is registered as UNESCO intangible cultural heritage. In addition to being used in the arts, it is used to make everyday items including clothes and toys.


A papermaker shakes the pulp on a screen, forming a sheet of paper. Image credit:

Japanese paper is used regularly in paper conservation, often when carrying out repair work. It is a very pure paper, so it won’t degrade over time. The fibres of Japanese paper are long, meaning the paper is strong. It can also be made in a variety of weights, from thick to extremely thin, so conservators can find the right match for the item they are working on.  We can often be found going through our folders of Japanese papers, touching each sheet to find the best match for the object we are treating!

Japanese paper

Japanese paper in different weights.

We are lucky to have these ship plans in our collection. From the special paper to the uniqueness of the draughtsman’s name on some of these plans, these items highlight how special and important our collection is. It’s a real treat to open a box and find such lovely material!

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