Digest>Archives> May 2007

Collecting Nautical Antiques

Our Picks For Great Books

By Jim Claflin


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While going through our shelves we were reminded of some great books that generally haven’t received their due attention in today’s lighthouse movement and in our reader’s libraries. The below titles were written before the sudden influx of books in the 1990’s and have long been riveting reading, filled with hundreds of insights into the lives of the keepers and crews.

Dalton, J. W., THE LIFE SAVERS OF CAPE COD. (1902. Ist. Chatham, Mass. 159p. Soft wraps.) This early work was profusely illustrated with over 100 fine b/w photographs, illustrations and maps, certainly making this the finest and most complete history of the Life-Saving Service and its 13 posts on the outer reaches of Cape Cod ever written. In 1902, writer J. W. Dalton set out to visit each of the thirteen U.S. Life-Saving Service stations on Cape Cod, from Wood End in the north to Monomoy Point in the south. This book, published late that year, remains the most minutely detailed account of life at these stations at the high point of the service’s existence. Dalton’s research covers not only the history of the service and descriptions of each station, but also provides a paragraph on each and every keeper and surfman then serving along the Cape’s seashore. Also included is information on the men, equipment, construction and modifications of the buildings, rescues, and even entries on the names and habits of the stations’ pets.

Original first editions can be found in the $80 to $145 range and hold their value as an investment. Now too this work has been reprinted in its original format and retails in soft cover for $9.95.

Another work that was instrumental in sparking my interest in this subject was Frederic L. Thompson, THE LIGHTSHIPS OF CAPE COD. (1996. 2nd printing. Kenrick A. Claflin & Son. 112 pp. Soft wraps.) Originally published in 1983, this engrossing work is lavishly illustrated with over 93 beautifully detailed photographs. Much sought after, this scarce volume chronicles the history of the lightships

in this vital area. Wonderfully detailed b/w photographs enhance the author’s

vivid description of the history and particularly the life aboard these vessels. One of the few volumes ever written exclusively on this subject, this fine work will make a worthwhile addition to any reading list. 1st editions sell in the $40 range, while the 2nd edition remains in print for $21.95.

The third title that sparked my interest years ago was by Edward Rowe Snow. Usually credited as the father of today’s lighthouse restoration movement. He wrote more than 100 titles in his 50 year career. One of his earliest titles, I think his best, is FAMOUS LIGHTHOUSES OF NEW ENGLAND. (Yankee Publishing Co. Boston. 1945. 457pp. 64 b/w plates. Many copies include a laid in map of First Coast Guard District.) Chock full of stories of building the primary and secondary seacoast lighthouses in New England, he includes accounts of the keepers, their families and the storms which they weathered. Based on books, records and journals of the keepers, this is certainly one of the earlier and most readable books on the subject. Original copies sell in the $35 to $65 range depending on condition, and some can be found that are signed and numbered by the author in the $100 range.

Because of this title’s importance and interest, it has now been reprinted by Commonwealth Press in soft and hard cover, and retails from $14.95 to $21.95.

Mr. Snow’s companion title printed in 1955 was FAMOUS LIGHTHOUSES OF AMERICA. (NY. 1955. 314pp.) Illustrated with photos and drawings, this title includes additional stories and history of many other light stations across the country in his usual, entertaining style. Though never reprinted, original copies are available and can be had in the $24 to $40 range depending on condition.

Finally, a title by Admont Clark deserves note. LIGHTHOUSES OF CAPE COD - Martha’s Vineyard - Nantucket. (East Orleans. 1992. DJ. 244p.) With a chapter devoted to each light station, this is surely the most interesting and comprehensive book on the light stations of this area. Profusely illustrated with fine early photographs and engravings. the author traces the history of each lighthouse from the beginning, the story of the construction and changes over the years, and of the men and women who lived and worked at the stations. First editions can be found in the $28 to $38 range.

This title has also been reprinted

as LIGHTHOUSES OF CAPE COD, MARTHA’S VINEYARD, NANTUCKET - Their History and Lore. Beverly. (2006. DJ. Commonwealth Press.) Retail price of $36.95. The text is complete and remains fine reading, but unfortunately the photographs are poorly reproduced.

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 May 2007 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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