Digest>Archives> March 2005

Collecting Nautical Antiques

Silver Plate Dining Service

By Jim Claflin


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Jeff Shook of the Michigan Lighthouse Conservancy (www.michiganlights.com) recently showed us a wonderful item that he was able to acquire – a beautifully made silver plate Lighthouse Service condiment caddy. As was common in the maritime services, officer’s mess aboard ship was a fine affair in the 19th century and the Lighthouse Service was no different. Though lighthouse keepers led a rather austere existence, ships’ officers and especially District Inspectors when aboard lighthouse tenders had much more comfortable surroundings.

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The inspector’s stateroom aboard the tender was paneled in fine hardwoods, dressed out and finished with fancy moldings and brass hardware and may even have been carpeted.

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The inspector would have dined with the officers of the vessel. Their mess, unlike the crew and shore personnel, would have been enhanced by numerous dinner pieces beyond those issued to lighthouse keepers and personnel on shore. Beautiful soup tourines, fancy creamers and sugars, handled serving dishes and more were provided. In addition, a set of fine silver plate serving ware was provided. Over the years we have come across a few pieces from these sets including serving bowls with lids, sugars and creamers, cake serving knife, napkin rings and now this beautiful condiment caddy.

The caddy measures about 8” long by 4 “wide and is 7” high to the handle top. Inside are spaces for two glass condiment containers. The bottom is marked “Rogers Bros…1847…Meriden Nickle Silver …Silver Soldered…0125.” On the side is a beautifully engraved insignia of the Lighthouse Service. This is a wonderful find and is certainly one of only a few (if any) left in existence.

Shown also are a wonderful Lighthouse Service cream and sugar that we recently found. Marked in the later turquoise pattern of the Lighthouse Service, these too were used on lighthouse vessels and possibly at offshore and remote stations. This Lighthouse “Service” pattern also bears a circular insignia and was probably in use from about 1890 to 1938. An additional Lighthouse Service pattern was used during this period as well. This consisted of a brown, leafy design simply with the letters “USLHS” blended in the line of leaves. This

too was probably in use from 1890 on because of the use of the term “Service.”

However, it is still unclear whether this pattern was in use before the turquoise pattern, or was used at the same time

for lighthouses and shore stations with the turquoise pattern reserved for officer’s mess on lightships and tenders.

Whatever the uses, these items have become quite collectible and fetch increasing prices as they become more difficult to find.

Like our column? Have suggestions for future subjects? Please send in your suggestions and questions, or a photograph of an object that you need help dating or identifying. We will include the answer to a selected inquiry as a regular feature each month in our column.

Jim Claflin is a recognized authority on antiques of the U.S. Lighthouse Service, LifeSaving Service, Revenue Cutter Service and early Coast Guard. In addition to authoring and publishing a number of books on the subject, Jim is the owner of Kenrick A Claflin & Son Nautical Antiques. In business since 1956, he has specialized in antiques of this specialty since the early 1990s. He may be contacted by writing to him at 1227 Pleasant Street, Worcester, MA 01602, or by calling (508)792-6627. You may also contact him by email: jclaflin@lighthouseantiques.net or visit his web site at www.lighthouseantiques.net

This story appeared in the March 2005 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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