Digest>Archives> May 2004

Collecting Nautical Antiques

River Lights

By Jim Claflin


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Antique photo restorer Andy Price recently sent us this wonderful photo which he restored and printed from an antique glass negative. The image provides a great view of a little known aspect of the Lighthouse Service’s work—that of maintaining aids to navigation along the country’s major rivers. One type of aid used was the combination daymark with lantern as shown below. This particular view is of an aid on the Ohio River and shows a worker resting from his work in renewing the braces, his post hole digger laying on the ground.

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The daymark consisted of white painted crossed board for added visibility, much like past railroad crossing signs. On the front, the marks bore a large identification number which, when referenced in the US Lighthouse Service Light List, gave the mariner his exact location on the river. Attached to the front of the daymark was a kerosene lamp and lantern for night visibility.

Such lanterns were used as a river or harbor navigational light and sometimes could be used without the lens as an area light at stations, on a station boathouse, or inside and outside of the warehouses at depots. These lanterns were constructed of copper in the early years and later of heavy tin. The front top was embossed: “U.S.L.H.S.” and later “U.S.C.G.,” after the Coast Guard assumed control in 1938. The lantern was tri-cornered, with two or three sides of the lantern housing glass panels. Two of the three panels were hinged and latched with double hasps. A vertical chamber ran from the top ventilator down the back to feed heated air up into the lamp burner. The lanterns measured approximately 16” x 16” x 16” with a ventilating cap on the top. The overall height was 28” to top of handle.

Inside the lantern was a circular copper oil lamp, also embossed with the letters “U.S.L.H.S.” or “U.S.C.G.” The base oil reservoir measured 6 3/4” in diameter by 5” high and had two passages running from the base to the front to provide air to the base of the flame. The lamps would sit in a circular base within the lantern with a ledge for the option of an additional glass Fresnel lens that would encircle the chimney. The lenses used included clear, red, and green. Overall lamp height with chimney was 14 1/2”.

Such lanterns and lamps can still be found and would make a fine addition to any collection. Next month we will feature another style or river light from Andy’s restored images.

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. 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 1990’s. 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 May 2004 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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