Digest>Archives> May/Jun 2017

Collecting Nautical Antiques

A Few Recent Finds:

By Jim Claflin

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A cap worn by a civilian officer on board a Coast ...


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Close-up of the hat device (insignia). It is ...

I have recently acquired a number of rare items including three unusual Lighthouse Service caps, and a curious variation of a Lighthouse Service china pattern.

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Plate #1 from Coast Guard Uniform Regulations ...

One cap is that of a civilian officer on board a Coast Guard Lighthouse Tender c.1939 – 1946 or so. Officers wearing this style of cap consisted of Captain, Mate, Deck Officers, Engineering Officer, Radio Operator and Clerk.

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These two creamers show the variation in styles ...

In the Regulations for Uniforms in the Lighthouse Service for 1920, the cap for an Officer of a Lighthouse Tender consisted of a blue cap of the type worn by Keepers, “with adjustable chin strap of gold lace one-half inch wide, fastened to the sides by two small regulation gilt buttons; in the middle of the front of the cap a gold-embroidered wreath 1 inches high by 2 inches spread, inclosing a silver-embroidered lighthouse three-fourths inch high; a black mohair braid 1½ inches wide to be worn around the cap. The visor to be patent leather on the outside and green underneath…. In hot weather, white uniforms could be worn with permission. In this case a white cover to fit neatly over the cap underneath the chin strap and the mohair braid may be used, or a skeleton white cap with device, mohair braid, and visor, the same as the blue cap, may be worn.”

By 1928, although the cap was the same, the insignia had now changed. Officers wearing this style of cap still consisted of Captain, Mate, Deck Officers, Engineering Officer, Radio Operator and Clerk. The regulations stated that the “Cap to be of pattern shown in Plate 1, with adjustable chin strap of gold lace, one-half inch wide fastened on the side of the cap by two ½-inch regulation gilt buttons; in the middle of the front of the cap shall be placed the cap device, embroidered on dark blue cloth. Cap cover to be dark navy-blue cloth, a black mohair band 1½ inches wide to be worn around the cap. The visor to be black patent leather on the outside and green underneath...”

In hot weather, white uniforms could be worn with permission. In this case, the cap could employ a white cover [rather than the navy blue] fitting over the cap underneath the chin strap and the mohair braid and device, or a skeleton cap in white with regulation device [insignia], mohair braid and visor, the same as the blue cap, could be used.

In 1939 when the Lighthouse Service was absorbed into the Coast Guard, employees were given the option of staying on as a civilian employee (as is the case with the owner of this hat), or receiving an equivalent rank in the Coast Guard.

According to the Coast Guard Regulations for Uniforms for Civilian Employees 1941, the regulations for Lighthouse Tender Officers’ cap were identical to the prior Lighthouse service, except the size of the hat device (insignia) was changed. During the Lighthouse Service years, the devise measured 2 5/8” high by 2 7/8” wide. In the Coast Guard regulations, the device was identical in construction and design but now measured a smaller 1 7/8” high by 2 1/8” wide. It is important to note that these hat devices were embroidered with gilt bullion thread, NOT made of metal as so many fakes on the market today are. This hat has Coast Guard buttons and the smaller insignia, which dates it to the Coast Guard era c.1939-1946. By the end of World War II, this cap design would be phased out as the last of the hold-over Lighthouse Service civilian employees retired.

Another interesting find is has been a beautiful little piece of U.S. Lighthouse Service china that we obtained at auction a few months ago. You may recognize the pattern, which we have talked about in the past.

This United States Light-House Service piece was 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. It is doubtful if all of the onshore light stations were provided with china, as keepers there many times provided their own household items. These pitchers bear the original “U.S.L.H.S.” and a brown daisy and leaf pattern around the upper rim. There were three patterns used over the years by the Lighthouse Establishment and Service and this is the second of the three patterns. At some time in the early 1900s this pattern was supplemented or replaced in favor of a turquoise lighthouse within a circle, with a turquoise perimeter stripe. The earliest pattern, prior to 1900 or so, was similar to the pattern shown, but with the letters “U.S.L.H.E.”

Interestingly, in this case, although the pieces are almost identical in size and design, the patterns are different. While on one the letters are within the daisy and leaf design, on the second the lettering is below. The pitcher on the left is marked on the bottom “Jackson China 1931.” Jackson China Company (as well as others) manufactured heavy vitrified china for the government including the Lighthouse Service from 1917 until 1939. The “1931” may be the date of manufacturer, or may be a code for some other date. The second pitcher is not marked.

We can only speculate on the reason for the differences in pattern. It may be a change that was made at some particular date, or it may simply be a variation due to different manufacturers. Such pieces 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.

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/Jun 2017 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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