Digest>Archives> August 2010

Collecting Nautical Antiques

U.S. Light House Establishment Barometer


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By Jim Claflin

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I just picked up this rare brass U.S. Light House Establishment barometer at an area auction. It came with a lot of items from the estate of Admiral Willard J. Smith (1910-2000), U.S. Coast Guard. Admiral Smith served as Commandant of the Coast Guard from July 1966 until his retirement in June 1970. During his tenure, he oversaw the Coast Guard’s transition from the Treasury Department to the Department of Transportation in April 1967. Smith was also the first aviator to serve as commandant and held previous posts with the Coast Guard in Cleveland, Ohio, and New London, Connecticut. In his career he came across many items I am sure, including this early brass barometer dating from the 1880’s – 1890’s.

The face of this early piece is white with black markings, lettered “U.S.L.H. ESTABLISHMENT.” The face is also lettered “Holosteric Barometer” and “PNHB” within a circle, for Naudet-Pertuis-Hulot-Baromètres, and “Made in France.”

Paul Naudet, who was France’s premier barometer maker of the second half of the 19th century, marked his units with his marks “PNHB.” Robert Merrill started his company in New York in 1835-36 with a partner (as Merrill & Davis) and then moved to his own address in 1840. In 1869 his company became Robert Merrill & Sons, the firm continuing into the twentieth century. From this information we estimate that this unit may date from as early as the 1860’s or 70’s, but not after the 1880’s. The barometer measures 5” in diameter and 2” deep, with the face measuring 4 ½” in diameter. This is an extremely rare piece and one of only two that I have had in twenty years.

One wonders if every light station was issued a barometer, and if so, why we have not found more over the years. Upon checking a U.S. Light House Establishment, Keeper’s Annual Property Return, I found that a barometer is indeed listed as an item that could be issued, although we don’t know if every station was allowed one. I feel certain though that light vessels and tenders would have one.

Next month I will talk about an original light keeper’s uniform that I was fortunate to obtain.

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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:


This story appeared in the August 2010 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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