CJB Boatyard

contact us at: [email protected]



Sutcliffe Boats

Hot Air Boats - 1920 to 1928

Sutcliffe's first boats were powered by what Sutcliffe described as a 'flash boiler'. It's rather like a 'pop pop' (aka 'toc toc') hot water circulation engine, but without the 'pop' noise. This method of propulsion was patented by Frederic Adolphus Lappin of Middlesborough in 1919.  You can follow a link to the patent documentation


When production of toy boats started in 1920 there was a certain degree of trial and error in the detail design of the first boats, but very soon there were 5 standard boats in the initial range. The first boat to be produced, in around 1920/1921 was the 12" battleship. This originally came in a single shade of grey, with pennants fore and aft, and was packaged in a simple folder card box.

Figure 1.2 shows a slightly later version of the 12" Battleship. This now has a rectangular rudder and has lost its rear pennant tube. It is also now in a deep red/grey colour scheme. Under the tiller arm is stamped 'J.W. Sutcliffe Makers Horsforth Leeds'. The box is now also far more sophisticated and is assembled from six separate cut and folder pieces of card, topped with a drawing of a warship and detailed instructions. Unlike the later 'sleve' boxes, this sturdy design stands the test of time well and many exmples survive.


Fig. 1.3 Shows the stamped markings on the rear deck of the an early Hot Air battleship. The markings read:


                                           J.W. SUTCLIFFE










12" Fig. 1.1 Early Hot Air Battleship - circa 1920. Not CJB Collection.

Fig. 1.2. Hot Air Battleship - Circa 1923

Shortly after the introduction of the 12" model, Sutcliffe introduced the mighty 16" Battleship.  Due to its size and the gauge of metal used, this model weighs in at well over 2 lbs making it a very substantial model. When placed in the water it comes as quite a suprise that it actually floats!


The larger version uses two coils instead of one, but even then it would still sail along at a very sedate pace. It also sported two extra gun turrets and featured very similar design changes (rudder, colours, pennant tubes etc.) over the period from 1920 to 1928.


Figure 2.1 shows a version from the mid 1920's with a triangular rudder and front pennant tube. This example is rather battered but would still be a jewel in any Sutcliffe collection owing to its rarity.


Fig 1.4 Hot Air 12" Battleships - 1922 to 1928

Fig. 2.1 Hot Air 16" Battleship circa 1925. Not CJB collection.

Figure 2.2 shows another example of the 16" Hot Air Battleship. This example has a square rudder and the rear gun is positioned closer to the rear hot air vent. It's not currently know which version came first. The square rudder and box style suggests later, but it has fore and aft pennant tubes found in the earlier boats.


Figure 2.2. Hot Air 16" Battleship circa 1925. Not CJB Collection

Two speedboats and a cabin cruiser were also introduced in approx 1921.  The two speedboats were 8" and 12" long and were very simple in construction, having a simple canopy across the foredeck, rather like some of the German toy boats available at the time (which apparently rather impressed Sutcliffe).  They are generally found in a red/cream colour scheme though some may have been produced in green/cream. These boats were made until the mid 1920's when they would have become rather dated in design.


Fig 3.1 shows the 12” speedboat, with original box and burner. These early boats are extremely rare; the 8” version being one of the rarest.

Fig 3.2 shows the 16” cabin cruiser. It has a simple hinged copper roof that allows access to the burner. This roof would have become extremely hot when in use and will have no doubt burnt many small boys fingers! They 16” boat came in green/cream colour scheme, with a red ‘vent’ on the foredeck.  The vent on these early boats is attached to the deck with a threaded shank and nut, unlike the later (clockwork) boats which has the vent soldered to the deck.

hot air cruiser

Fig 3.1. 12" 'Hot Air' Speedboat,  circa 1922

Fig. 3.2. 16" 'Hot Air' Cabin Cruiser, circa 1922.

Figure 1.1 shows one of the first hot air battleships - note the fore and aft pennant tubes and circular rudder. The 12" Hot Air battleship was produced until 1928 and remained largely the same, however certain details such as rudder, mast design, front and rear loop, pennant tubes and embossed logo did change.   The box is also interesting; the base and lid are both made from single sheet of card which has been folded and stapled using a conventional hand stapler. This design requires no specialist carton machinery such as die cutters or carton staplers.

Figure 1.4 shows a trio of 12" Hot Air battleships and thier respective boxes. It can be seen how the shade of both red and grey changed over the years. The centre and right boats only differ from each other in thier colour; they both differ from the earler boat (left) in that the crows nest is slightly different (it no longer has a small flange on the rim), the pennant tube has now moved to the back, the oval 'Suctliffe'  logo has been adopted on the stern deck just below the tiller arm, and the rudder blade is slightly longer. The boxes are almost identical; the only subtle difference is to the border design on the earlier box.


Fig 1.5 shows the revised rear deck marking. This is now embossed (ie stamped from underneath) and featued on all of the boats in the range during the 1930's

IMG_0575 IMG_0576 IMG_0574 IMG_0573

Fig. 1.3.  Rear deck markings circa 1922

Fig. 1.6 - Hot Air Battleship box, showing instructions. Circa 1925


Fig. 1.5 Rear deck markings circa 1925


By 1928, the hot air boats would all be gone, making way for a new generation of far more modern looking boats, powered by powerful German (initially) clockwork motors...