This site is dedicated to the idea that figureheads on ships & boats form a rich part of cultural heritage. It emphasizes figureheads of women, men, and animals carved in the 19th & 20th c. for vessels in the United States, Canada, UK, Europe, & Australia. And for modern boat decorations, visit www.hullartships.com.
Newport Historical Society writes in its description of their ALOHA figurehead "A figurehead is an ornamental or decorative figure placed on the prow of a ship symbolizing the name and soul of the ship." I like it, for most of the time. But researchers also recognize that during its working life a figurehead may remain on the bow of a renamed vessel, with its appearance then having nothing to do with the name.
-One article, a good while ago, cites a Smithsonian source as saying there are perhaps 1,000 surviving figureheads.
-In contrast, I once estimated the number at 3,000. First I omitted billetheads & fiddleheads. Then I counted figures including animals. My total was 2000, based largely on what I saw in Hans Jurgen Hansen's inventory, GALIONSFIGUREN. My count omitted from Hansen some figures I thought were not authentic and I added others that Hansen did not include, and then I added another 1,000 as an estimate for ones that surely still exist but are unpublished. It was my best guess.
-Recently the author of Hunter Archives told me he estimates there are 10,000 surviving figureheads.
-So the answer is not specifically known, nor is it likely to be soon because. there is no digital inventory of figureheads and they can disintegrate due to wood problems, and the number of still-unpublished figureheads is in question.
Bugeyes and skipjacks on the Chesapeake sometimes had figures a mere few inches high at the end of their longhead bow designs. And at Mystic Seaport, I measured the bust figure from the whaler EUNICE H. ADAMS as 17-1/2" high (44.4 cm), and the MAGDALENA figurehead height as 102" (225cm). Many figureheads are massively larger, depending on the vessel they decorate.
Personally I am passionate about the topic of ship figureheads. I like that they were made to match the vessel's name and that, like marketing devices, they became known in ports worldwide at a time when it might take more than 3 months to sail from New York to San Francisco. I like that they are working-class sculpture with special features that sculpture in museums and building niches don't require. I like that they are made of wood by a carver whose trade card was probably in his local newspaper and whose artistic merit could be rated in the press. And I like the rich maritime stories ship figureheads bring to us and the lives they illuminate. As you look into them too, I hope some of the resources on this website will be useful to you.