Digest>Archives> September 2003

Collecting Nautical Antiques

U. S. Lighthouse Service Vest

By Jim Claflin


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Typical lighthouse keeper’s uniform c.1880, from ...

Jeff Shook of the Michigan Lighthouse Conservancy recently sent us photos of a wonderful find - a US Lighthouse Service keeper’s uniform vest. In the past Jeff has come across a keeper’s white lens cleaning coat and now he has been able to add this rare vest to his collection.

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Close-up of keeper’s vest, courtesy Jeff Shook.

Vests were part of the required uniform for Masters and Mates of lighthouse tenders and lightships, Engineers of tenders and lightships, stewards and cooks, lighthouse keepers and assistants, and the watchmen at the General Light House Depot on Staten Island. Vests were part of the required uniform for many years. Beginning in the 1880’s we see them in many keeper’s photos and the uniform regulations.

The 1907 “Regulations Governing The Uniforms Of The Officers And Men Of The United States Light-House Establishment” describes the vests worn as: “of navy-blue cloth in winter, or navy-blue serge of flannel in summer, and cut single-breasted, with five small regulation buttons and a small rolling collar, so as to show about 6 inches of the shirt bosom; to have a watch pocket in the left side and a lower pocket on each side. The regulation buttons at this time were with “an outer rim slightly raised, inside of which, arranged circularly, are to be the letters “U. S. L. H. E.” (Note too that the organization was still being referred to as the Light House Establishment as late as 1907. By 1912 the buttons had changed to the “Minot’s Ledge Lighthouse” style and the term “Lighthouse Service” was now being used.)

Jeff’s vest measures about 24” high and has an adjustable back strap and inside pocket, liner, two pockets on each side in the front. Buttons are the larger 1” style. This was a great find, 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. He may be contacted by writing to him at 30 Hudson Street, Northborough, MA 01532, or by calling 508-393-9814. Or by email: jclaflin@lighthouseantiques.net or visit his web site at www.lighthouseantiques.net

This story appeared in the September 2003 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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