Digest>Archives> Nov/Dec 2016

Collecting Nautical Antiques

More On Lighthouse Service Uniform Insignia

By Jim Claflin


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Quartermaster on lightship with similar insignia ...

We recently acquired a uniform hat insignia that has proved to be quite rare and interesting.

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A metal fake insignia, one of many styles found ...

With the adoption of the Light-House Board in 1852, a system of order was finally brought to the lighthouses and navigational aids in the country. Many new lighthouses, beacons, and buoys were constructed. Maintenance was also improved on existing stations. New fog signals and light vessels were added, and many new programs were instituted to study and improve the equipment in use.

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1880’s image of Maine Keeper Frank N. Jellison ...

A significant benefit of the new Light-House Board was the improvement of personnel administration and thus the improvement of morale within the organization. Experience and ability now became a determining factor in keeper appointments. As the working conditions improved, so too did the keeper’s lives and many would begin long careers. From this point on, a lighthouse keeper became an important and respected occupation, with many keepers and their families serving up to 50 years. Within the framework of these new regulations, now too came a strict attention to detail.

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Note the “U S Lighthouse Service” cap tally on ...

Prior to this time, keepers generally wore clothes of their own choice. There was no clothing allowance offered, although occasionally if a keeper suffered a significant loss due to storm or fire, the Fifth Auditor might allow him some compensation. On May 1, 1884 regulations became effective requiring keepers to be neatly and completely uniformed, and inspections were made by the District Inspector to insure that the station was in good order. A uniform was prescribed for male keepers and assistant keepers of light stations, and the master, mates and engineers of light vessels and tenders. In addition, a uniform was spelled out for other crewmen of supply vessels and tenders, as well as buoy depot keepers and depot watchmen.

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Embroidered cap insignia was used by station ...

The Lighthouse Service supplied uniforms for the initial outfitting of 1,600 keepers at the 673 light stations existing in 1885. We suspect that similarly officers on board tenders and lightships were supplied. Following that, new keepers were required to furnish their own uniform conforming to the standard.

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Quartermaster at the wheel of the lighthouse ...

Regulations noted that under penalties of dismissal, keepers were required to wear the proper uniform at all times. Though civilian clothing was allowed to be worn while away on private business, at other times either the fatigue or dress uniform was to be worn. Additionally, no mix between the three was allowed except cap and overcoat could be worn over civilian clothes. Regulations further stated that the “fatigue uniform must be kept clean and no keeper will be allowed to wear dirty clothing at any time.”

Coats would vary from 5 button double breasted, to 4 button double breasted, to 4 button single breasted, depending on the time period and what the keeper or officer could obtain. Likewise, the button design varied over the early years from an intertwined “U.S.” over “L.H.E.” soon replaced by an arc of “U. S. L. H. E.” by the 1890s. These buttons were specified as “…triple gilt on brass, the outer rim to be slightly raised, inside of which, arranged circularly, are to be the letters U.S.L.H.E.” There were specified three sizes of buttons: large one inch in diameter, medium 3/4 inch in diameter, and small 1/2 inch in diameter.

By about 1900-1910 the button design had again changed to a raised relief image of Minot’s Ledge Lighthouse.

According to the 1893 Light-House Service Uniform Regulations, Quartermasters on Lighthouse Tenders wore the same uniform as fourth mates, except the silver lighthouse on the sleeve was replaced with a white steering wheel 1 ½” in diameter, embroidered in white silk or white thread on both coat sleeves midway between the shoulder and elbow.

The hat was of the “…navy pattern, with adjustable chin strap of gold lace ½” wide, fastened to the sides by two small regulation buttons; in the middle of the front of the cap a gold embroidered wreath 1 ¼” high by 2” spread; inclosing a silver embroidered light-house ¾” high; a black mohair braid 1 ½” wide to be worn around the cap.”

By the next updated regulations in 1907, the uniform for Quartermasters on Lighthouse Tenders was the same, except that the cap device now consisted of “…a silver light-house with gold-worked letters “U. S. L. H. E.” 5/8” in length , in a circle at the base of the light-house.”

Later regulations including 1912, 1920, and 1928 are identical with respect to the Quartermaster hat insignia, except that the letters were now changed to “U. S. L. H. S.”. This is indeed the hat insignia that we have been fortunate enough to find. By 1941 when the Lighthouse Service was incorporated into the Coast Guard, the Quartermaster insignia remained in this form except that the letters were again changed, now to “U. S. C. G.”.

It is important to note that these insignia were embroidered on blue cloth and sewn to the hat front. The insignia were not made of metal as some Ebay sellers and others might have you believe. You should be especially suspicious of any “Lighthouse Service” insignia that you find that is not embroidered.

On another note, we recently acquired a wonderful photo of a Lighthouse Tender crew posing on deck. The photo was taken at the General Light-House Depot on Staten Island c.1884 – 1897. Note the hats on the seamen. This image provides a good view of the crew cap tally. The tally measured 1 ¼” wise with “Light-House Service” embroidered in gold wire letters 1 ½” high.

But look at the 4 officers. Their hats are taller than regulation, and are fitted with the metal lighthouse with crossed buoys insignia that by regulation was for the depot watchman only.

Even more puzzling is the collar insignia – they are all different.

Note the officers from left to right:

Top loop only, nothing in center;

Top loop only, looks like a “1” in the center;

Both loops, nothing in center;

Both loops, something in center, can’t tell what. (He is clearly senior with gilt chin strap on hat.)

The loop specified for station keepers was embroidered in gold, 2 1/2 inches long by 3/4 inch wide the border of loop to be 1/10 inch broad. Within the loop would be embroidered a “K”. “1”, “2”, “3”, etc depending on position. Depot Keepers were authorized to have a “W” within the insignia, but these are neither of the above.

We have not seen reference to these insignia variations in any of the uniform regulations but will continue looking.

Next time we will talk a bit about the radio operators aboard lightships.

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 type 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 Nov/Dec 2016 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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