Digest>Archives> July 2005

Collecting Nautical Antiques

Recent Finds

By Jim Claflin


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Following our last column, I received a nice letter from Jim in Carmel, Indiana. He noted that within days of reading my last article, he was given a photo of a lighthouse keeper, reportedly taken inside the Buffalo Main Lighthouse. In the photo, a young William Orr is presenting a sheet of Easter Seals to the keeper. The photo shows a great view of the keeper’s hat and collar insignia that we talked about last month. (It is interesting to note that his collar “k” insignia is placed on the lower lapel rather than the upper where we normally see them.) Note also the four service stripes, indicating that he has over 20 years in the service. It is only occasionally that we find a photo showing a keeper with these service stripes. My research shows that this may not have been taken at the Buffalo Main Lighthouse, as it was only operational until 1914, although there were a number of other lights in the area. Maybe one of our readers will recognize this keeper and let us know his name and assignment.

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Another interesting piece that just arrived is a rare stereoview of the boat room at the Surfside Life Saving Station on Nantucket by J. Freeman, c.1870s. This extremely rare view provides great detail as a surfman on the boat ramp demonstrates their new Merriman rubber lifesaving suit. In the background, we can see into the boatroom floor where their Hunt line gun sits next to the Francis Metallic Lifeboat. The Merriman rubber lifesaving suit was an innovation of the time. The inventor, Clark S. Merriman, in a bid to help sea rescue, designed this life- preserving suit, which was made from India rubber and was inflatable. This suit had been tested by Captain Boyton of the New Jersey Life Saving Service, when he was dropped over the side of a steamer into the Irish Sea, in a gale. Soon, suits were issued to some other stations as warranted, including the Surfside station on Nantucket. They did see some use including at the well-known wreck of

the Metropolis near the Poyners Hill Life Saving station in North Carolina in 1878. There, after a number of unsuccessful attempts to get a shot line aboard the stricken vessel, Keeper Chappell then donned the Merriman life saving dress and made two valiant attempts to carry

a line out to the vessel. There are very few views of the boatroom in existence

at Surfside, and even fewer of the Merriman suit. Views of such equipment are extremely rare and can bring a premium; a similar view in slightly better condition was recently sold at auction for over $700. So, keep your eyes open.

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, Life Saving 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 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 July 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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