Digest>Archives> Jan/Feb 2014

Collecting Nautical Antiques

A Few MORE Good Finds

By Jim Claflin


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We recently obtained some more rare items that I thought might be of interest.

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First is a wonderful new booklet that just came out - The Lighthouse Service and the Great War (Henry, Ellen J. Ponce Inlet. 2013. 72p. Soft wraps.) The booklet is researched and written by Ms. Ellen Henry, curator at the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse and Museum in Florida. Ellen is an expert on the subject of the U.S. Lighthouse Service and is curator of one of the nicer Lighthouse Service and Life-Saving Service collections in the country.

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The Great War at the beginning of the twentieth century affected every aspect of American life including the personnel of the Lighthouse Service. It was even proposed that the Lighthouse Service become a part of the U.S. Navy during the Great War. This would become a reality and the operation of the Lighthouse Service and the lives of the personnel were greatly affected. But many questions would arise. What orders would lighthouse personnel obey? What would they be paid? Could the keeper’s families remain at the light stations as they had for years ? How would the operation of the lighthouses and light vessels change in this new age of submarine warfare? What additional duties would be required of lighthouse personnel? These and many other questions are discussed in some detail in this author’s most interesting and readable account. Ms. Henry’s well researched account is filled with little known information on the Lighthouse Service during this period and will be a valued addition to your library.

Another interesting item just in is a rare portrait photograph of a Quartermaster aboard a Lighthouse Service tender at about the turn of the century. What strikes me about this photo are the uniform insignia, rarely seen this well in photos. More often we find photos of lighthouse keepers but rarely do photos of tender and lightship personnel emerge. Clearly we can see the 1 ½” Quartermaster’s “steering wheel” embroidered in white silk on the coat sleeve that is indicated in the 1907 and prior Uniform Regulations.

The gentleman is also wearing a regulation cap, with adjustable chin strap of leather fastened by two small regulation “U.S.L.H.E.” buttons. In the center of the front on the cap is the rarely seen embroidered insignia consisting of a “silver light-house with gold-worked letters “U.S.L.H.E., 5/8 inch in length , in a circle at the base of the light-house.” It is interesting (and distressing) to note that on some auction web sites there are some metal insignia mimicking this design that are claimed to be antique originals, fetching hundreds of dollars each. It is doubtful that any are more than a few years old.

This hat insignia seems to be reserved for quartermasters on tenders alone, as all other personnel ashore or afloat were specified to wear the embroidered wreath insignia inclosing a silver lighthouse until 1928, when there were significant changes made. This hat insignia for Quartermasters came into use between 1893 and 1907 and was still in use thru 1928, and probably until 1939 . Note in the image reproduced from Fortune Magazine (January 1937), Quartermaster John E, Klang on the tender Spruce can be seen wearing a similar cap insignia. To his left is the ship’s Master, his father, Captain Victor Klang, peering out at channel markings in New York Bay.

In my photo, on the front of the double-breasted sack coat in navy blue, there are eight large 1” regulation “U.S.L.H.E.” buttons – even this design can be clearly seen in this remarkably clear photo. This style was replaced with the lighthouse image buttons some time after the 1907 regulations came into effect.

Wonderful “finds” and period photos like this one sparked my interest some 30 years ago and continue to make the hunt worthwhile. You never know what you might find in that box at the local antique show or flea market.

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. 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 Jan/Feb 2014 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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