Digest>Archives> Jan/Feb 2006

Collecting Nautical Antiques

Lighthouse Keeper's Service Basket

By Jim Claflin


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A beautiful addition to any lighthouse collection is the keeper's service basket. This extremely rare brass basket was used by the keepers

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of the Lighthouse Establishment (and later Service) to carry wick trimming and cleaning tools to the lantern with which to trim and maintain the lamps. The baskets were made entirely of brass by the craftsmen at the Staten Island Lighthouse Depot. They were beautifully marked on the two lids:

“U.S. LIGHTHOUSE ESTABLISHMENT” (or SERVICE, depending on the date of manufacture) on one lid, and marked with the oval stamp “U.S. LIGHTHOUSE DEPOT, LAMP SHOP, 3 DIST STATEN ISLAND” on the second lid.

The service basket measures 12 1/2” from end to end and approximately 9” across, 7 1/2” high to the top of handle. The basket has two hinged lids, meeting in the center near the handle. Inside the basket are the original compartments for tools and cleaning items including one with hinged cover. On one side, there are two brass loops for holding the keeper's cleaning cloths. On the underside of the basket are two applied brass “feet,” 1 1/2” diameter.

The inside of the box is divided into three compartments. The 1853 “Instructions to Keepers” describes the contents of the basket: “One compartment received a flat box, in which greasy rags and wick trimmings are temporarily placed, and upon that box were placed the clean rags for wiping the glass chimneys.

“The second compartment contained the following items: 1. A triangular scraper to removed the 'cooked' oil remaining on the edges of the burner. 2. A horse-hair bottle brush mounted on a wire stem to clean the air tubes of the burner of the service lamp. 3. A pair of curved scissors to snuff the wicks of the lamp.

“The third compartment was designed to hold: 1. A pair of straight scissors to cut the length of new wicks to the proper length.

2. A caliber to determine the length of the new wick. 3. Mandrills to assist in placing the wicks. These are in a conical form, except for a small part of their base, which is cylindrical to receive the wick holder.”

The wick was trimmed by lowering it to its lowest point and cutting the upper edge even with the top of the burner, in the “neatest and most regular manner possible, with the sharp curved scissors…”

In another time, we will discuss the other supplies issued such as buff skins, rouge, spirits of wine, dripping pan, spirit level, etc. and their various uses. Also, ever wonder why sometimes we use the term “Lighthouse Establishment” and other times “Lighthouse Service”? We will discuss that in future articles as well.

This story appeared in the Jan/Feb 2006 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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