STEP 1: See any written records about the carving provenance, conservation, and damage, and the vessel name and history. STEP 2. Measure consistently as referenced in thesis below, especially taking measurement of the figure alone, as well as overall measurements including scrollwork and head gear. STEP 3. Photograph front, back, each side, base, and front 3/4 views.This helps ensure you have the same angle when comparing your study carving to photographs of other carvings. STEP 4. Observe all surface information including fastenings, wood joins. Ideally, draw the figure in detail, going side to side so that, for example, if there is a difference in one side scroll from the other, it will be immediately evident to you. STEP 5. Search publications to find comparable images, paying special attention to STYLE (bust, full-length, scrollskirt) and to drapery and scroll treatments. The same carver is likely to use a similar treatment in these areas. STEP 6. In comparables you find, identify primary ship types, dates, country of origin. STEP 7. Discern the subject type, ie, portrait figure, warrior, actor in costume, etc. STEP 8. I hope you will share your work!
For documentation details see Olsen, Carol (1984) master's thesis "Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Figureheads from the Mystic Seaport Museum Collection." Abstract is at this link, from which the entire document can be clicked for download. https://nautarch.tamu.edu/Theses/abstracts/olsen.html.
This will be added shortly.
The United States Department of Agriculture has a Forest Products Laboratory website on which it is offered that wood analysis can be done for free.
Wood Identification Public Service
Center for Wood Anatomy Research
USDA Forest Service, Forest Products Laboratory
One Gifford Pinchot Dr.
Madison, WI 53726-2398
FIGUREHEAD FACES.. A Smithsonian photographer advised "If you want a picture of a shoelace, take the shoelace, not the shoe." I think of that when doing close-ups of a carving's face. Focusing on part of the face often lets me capture expressiveness that a further-away photo would not, and In one case I had the surprise result that a female figurehead appeared to be subtly smiling in one view while she looked more noble in another.
-Maine Antique Digest. Antique store clients sometimes advertise figureheads or their likenesses.
Q: Are figureheads always women? A: No. There are a huge number of male figureheads, most of which are visually interesting in their attire, pose, weaponry or other attributes.