Digest>Archives> November 2006

Collecting Nautical Antiques

Miscellaneous Finds

By Jim Claflin


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Recently we have found a number of wonderful pieces which we wanted to share with you.

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The first is a superb find, found at an auction “Down East” this past summer - a United States Light-House Establishment 5-Gallon Bulk Oil Storage and Carrying Can. Rather than for carrying oil to the light tower as most that we find are, this style of 5-gallon can was for use in the keeper’s house for dispensing oil for his use in his lamps, thus the valve at the base of the can for dispensing the oil. The bottom of can is marked: “U.S.L.H. DEPOT 3 DIST. LAMP SHOP STATEN ISLAND N.Y.”, and “U.S. LIGHTHOUSE ESTABLISHMENT”. The can is of all brass with a wood and brass swing carrying handle. Most notable is the brass quarter-turn valve on the side at the base, and a filler funnel and vent on the top. The overall diameter is approximately 11”, overall height 16” (22” to top of wooden swing handle.). We have never seen this style with bottom valve on the market before.

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Another recent find has been an early Manby life-saving mortar (line gun). Captain George William Manby was most famous for his development of an early line mortars and cannon which bear his name, for firing a life line to a ship in distress. Born in 1765, Manby devoted himself to the development of life-saving apparatus after experiencing a shipwreck while in his forties. In addition, he developed the breeches buoy apparatus and was a founder of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. The early life-saving equipment developed by this important inventor included early mortars, shot, heaving lines, faking boxes, weatherproof pistol, life-car, buoys, signals, lifeboats, and much more. His “Manby Mortar” and later the Hunt Gun were utilized by the Life Saving Service and Massachusetts Humane Society prior to the development of the Bronze Gun “C” by David Lyle for the Life saving Service.

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Manby wrote a number of detailed works on the subject including the detailed Method Of Rescuing Persons From Vessels Stranded On A Leeward Shore, published in August of 1821. In 1971 a biography of Captain Manby was published by Kenneth Walthew entitled From Rock And Tempest. Published in London, this 175 page work details the life of this important inventor and his efforts in the development of these early life-saving equipments.

This extremely rare and early U.S. Life Saving Service piece was found on Long Island. It includes an original projectile lodged in the barrel. (It was common practice after these units were replaced with the bronze Lyle gun, to display the mortar on the front lawn of the station with a projectile in the barrel. After years of rain the projectiles would rust into place and there they remain today.) Weighing approximately 250 pounds, this is a formidable display piece.

Finally, on Cape Cod we were able to find a very rare United States Life-Saving Service wooden duck hunting decoy - a most unusual find. The decoy is hand made of wood and each bears the initials in the bottom: “U.S.L.S.S.”. These initials are deeply branded in with the official one piece station branding iron, not carved in. Hunting by off duty surfmen at the stations in season was not uncommon during the existence of the Life Saving Service (and the later Coast Guard as well) to help diversify the men’s meal choices. Though later regulations prohibited the practice, some hunting surely continued. Such decoys were made or purchased by the men, and labeled “U.S.L.S.S.” so they would be returned to the station if lost. Decoys were often times repainted to freshen their look and this is no exception. Some cleaning and restoration as well as touch-up painting has been carried out on this piece but one can see much of the original paint on the wings and on the bottom, revealing the original finish. Probably dating from 1900-1915, the decoy measures 15”long by 6” high. This too is an exceptionally rare and unusual find, and would certainly be an added dimension to any collection on the subject. I have only found four others in 15 years.

As you vacation, be sure to visit area antique shops, barn sales, etc. You never know what you might come across. We will highlight other great finds in future columns.

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 November 2006 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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