Commonly asked questions and misunderstandings about antiques… and the odd or end fascinating bit!
Carved wooden cat’s heads are a rather obscure bit of nautical lore. The “cats head” is a wooden beam angling out from either side of a ship’s bow, used to weigh and let go the anchors and hold them away from the hull. Very good thinking unless you prefer swimming over sailing!
It was the custom in the 17th to 19th Centuries to adorn a ship with many carved decorations, like figureheads, stern boards, trailboards, and quarterboards. What else would one put on the end of a cats head but a carved cat’s head? In fairness the historical record is unsure, and it is possible that the carvings came first and prompted the name.
Smaller versions sometimes enhanced the ends of booms as well. In truth most of the carvings tended to more resemble lion’s heads. There is a wonderful example of a cat’s head carving on display in the Nantucket Atheneum.
Antiques Snippets are provided by Jack Fritsch, proprietor of the Antiques Depot at 2 S. Beach Street (across from the Nantucket Yacht Club) NantucketAntiquesDepot.com.