The name Clipper is applied to a ship to indicate that it is a very fast sailer. The term, probably derived from the verb clip (to move quickly), was first used in the United States soon after the War of 1812 and was applied to the type of vessel formerly described as Virginia built or of pilot boat construction. After the 1830s the term clipper was adopted to mean any fast ship.
The Clipper Ship
By 1830 general usage had made the term clipper synonymous with fast sailing, although no specific hull type or rig was standard. After about 1845 the term was used in conjunction with a name indicating the cargo carried or area served by a fast-sailing vessel, and a specific rig and hull type usually were indicated.
The more common types were the California clipper, China clipper, coffee clipper, opium clipper, and tea clipper. The California clipper, China clipper, and tea clipper were ship-rigged vessels with sharp bows and were designed for speed.
The coffee and opium clippers varied in size and might be schooner, brigantine, brig, bark, or ship rigged, but were equally sharp bowed for fast sailing.
The ships having the sharpest bows, that is, those in which cargo capacity was most sacrificed for speed, were called extreme clippers. All the extreme clippers were built between 1850 and 1856. Moderately sharp-bowed vessels capable of carrying more cargo than the extreme ships were called clippers. Ships with small cargo capacity but having bows sufficiently sharp to give fairly high speed were called medium clippers or half clippers. A small proportion of the American California and China clippers were of the extreme type; medium clippers predominated.
The American clipper ship era extended only from about 1845 to 1859. Not many American clippers were launched before...