Digest>Archives> April 2003

Collecting Nautical Antiques

Light House Establishment Tools

By Jim Claflin


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One group of lighthouse items that we occasionally see are tools and tool chests used or issued to lighthouses and lighthouse vessels. I doubt whether every station received a complete tool chest, probably the larger stations had them while the smaller stations were issued just a selection of necessary tools.

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The Lighthouse Service, Keeper’s Annual Property Return, Requisition, and Receipt Form No. 30 for 1900 lists the following tools available for issue when warranted: anvil, augers, awls, axe, bit brace with bits, hack saw and blades, various brushes, chisels (cold and wood), crowbars, glass cutters, drills, files, gouges, grindstone, hammers (various types), handles for various tools, hatchets, caulking iron, knives, spirit levels, calking mallets, mattock, nails, pickaxe, glazer’s pincers, block planes, pliers, punches, rasps, rules (folding), sandpaper, various types of saws, scissors, screw drivers, nail sets, tin shears, sickles, spoke shaves, hand vise, wrenches, etc. Each and every tool was marked with the letters “U.S.L.H.E.” or similar. Even the paintbrushes that we have found were marked on the handles.

The U.S. Light-House Establishment Tool Chest was an attractive, sturdy oak chest measuring about 22” x 30” x 18” high. Chests were only of the best manufacture, with dovetailed corner joints and a brass plate inset into top which read “U. S. Light-House Establishment.” The front included an inset brass key lock and brass knob, brass hasp on one end and brass handles on the ends. Inside the chest were wooden dividers to hold the various tools, some labeled with pasted on paper labels identifying the particular tool locations.

Such items can still be found at antique shows and shops are well worth looking for.

Next time we will take a look some more unusual recent finds. Please continue to send in your questions and photos on the subject 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. 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 April 2003 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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