Digest>Archives> October 2010

Collecting Nautical Antiques

Lighthouse Service China

By Jim Claflin


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We recently acquired this wonderful photo of the Lighthouse Tender Marigold crew dining which I thought you would like to see.

This image was captured in 1937 at Michigan’s Detroit Lighthouse Depot. Such photos, as you might imagine, are extremely rare. Very few interior photos were taken in these early years due to the poor available lighting and early film characteristics, thus these images have become quite important and rare.

This image gives us a wonderful insight into the life of the men in this branch of the Lighthouse Service, their dress, even the food that they are being served. If you look closely, you can see a wide variety of food including fruit, dark bread, potatoes, meat of course, and a number of vegetables - quite a hearty meal indeed.

The dinnerware in this image is of a scarce original china dinnerware pattern used by the United States Light-House Service, manufactured of heavy white institutional type china, in the latter years of the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century for use in ships’ wardrooms and at offshore light stations. We don’t know for sure yet if all of the onshore light stations were provided with china as well, or if keepers there may have provided their own.

The pieces in the photo bear the original “U.S.L.H.S.” brown leafy pattern, consisting of a brown flower and leaf design around the perimeter and on the lids as well. On the body of the pieces in the pattern are the letters “U.S.L.H.S.” There were three patterns used over the years by the Lighthouse Establishment and Service and this is the second of the three patterns. In the early 1900s we think that this pattern was generally replaced in favor of a turquoise lighthouse within a circle, with a turquoise perimeter stripe. The earliest pattern was similar to the one shown, but with the letters “U.S.L.H.E.”

Note the variety in the pieces that they are using. Interesting too is the fact that the coffee mugs are plain, without any pattern.

Such revealing photos are extremely rare and can command premium prices, so do keep looking in your local antique shops and yard sales as they do appear from time to time.

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. 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 October 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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