Digest>Archives> June 2007

Collecting Nautical Antiques

Plymouth Gurnet Twin Lighthouses

By Jim Claflin


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We recently attended an antique show in Hartford, Connecticut. As we walk the aisles at these shows, we repeatedly ask the vendors for “lighthouse, life-saving or Coast Guard items” and despite many “No, I am sorry” answers, we try to look through their offerings anyway hoping that they might have forgotten something special.

Well, to our delight, beneath one table we discovered what turned out to be a pair of the finest early cabinet photos that we have ever found on the subject.

Cabinet views or prints were introduced in 1866 and were popular into the early 20th century — until about 1920. Such views consisted of a thin albumen print mounted on a stiff trade card, usually beautifully embossed with the photographer's name and advertising information. By far the most common sizes for this type of view were4” x 6”, 5” x 7” or 6” x 8”.

Well, these photos turned out to be a full 12” by 14” — the largest that I have ever seen, and were clear, close, just magnificent views. The photographer was L. B. Howard, who worked in the Boston and Brant Rock area of Massachusetts in the 1880’s and 1890’s. The first view was of the two twin lighthouses on the Gurnet in Plymouth.

The Gurnet is a 7-mile long peninsula bordering Plymouth Bay on the north. The first lighthouse on the high bluff at the end

of the Gurnet consisted of a wooden dwelling with a lantern at each end of its roof, authorized by an act of the colonial legislature in 1768. The lights were operational late that year, and served until 1801, when the structure was destroyed by fire.

A new pair of 22-foot high twin towers was built in 1803, and later in 1843 a third pair of octagonal wooden towers, joined by a covered walkway, were completed to replace the deteriorating 1803 towers.

These 1843 twin lights would remain jointly in service at their original locations until 1924. At this time, as twin light configurations were being phased out in favor of new flashing mechanisms to distinguish light stations, the northeast light was discontinued and torn down, ending 156 years of twin lights on the site. The remaining tower was later moved back to protect it from the eroding cliffs but today remains much as it was, and it has been beautifully restored. This is one of the few wooden lighthouse towers from this period remaining in this country and is well worth viewing, especially the inside construction. The tower is open for public viewing once or twice a year.

This wonderful view was taken on August 30, 1889. (Fortunately, it was dated by the photographer on the back.) In the view the 1843 towers and keeper’s dwelling can be seen as a number of finely dressed Victorian visitors view the surrounding bay from the gallery railing. Look beyond the keeper’s house, to the right, where you can see the early 1873-74 U.S. Life Saving Service station — the subject of next month’s column.

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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 June 2007 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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