Digest>Archives> March 2008

Collecting Nautical Antiques

A Few Good Things:

By Jim Claflin


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Following our column on U.S. Light House Establishment boundary markers, we received a nice email from Carole at Piedras Blancas Light Station in California, with a photo of another style boundary marker that they found located on the north boundary of the lighthouse property there. This marker is granite, buried into the ground and is likely pre 1900. It bears the letters “U S L H” engraved into the granite top at the four corners. Some time after 1938 the Coast Guard used this marker as a benchmark for surveying and inset a bronze benchmark point into the center of the marker. One wonders if there may have been an “E” or “S” under the benchmark. Thanks Carole for bringing to light this interesting lighthouse property marker.

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If you have ever wondered when the U.S. Lighthouse Service button that is in your collection was manufactured, this reference may be just for you. Written by William F. McGuinn and Bruce S. Bazelon, the book is entitled American Military Button Makers And Dealers; Their Backmarks & Dates. (Fredericksburg. 1996. 135p.) This is a comprehensive discussion and listing of all makers and suppliers of American military buttons covering the period from ca. 1790 to ca. 1945.

This comprehensive study by the authors has become an invaluable tool in identifying buttons and what period they were manufactured. With this guide along with a companion book: Record Of American Uniform And Historical Buttons, (Albert, Alphaeus H., Bicentennial Edition. 1976. 511p.) you will be well equipped to properly identify your early buttons and determine what period they were manufactured. With hundreds of photographs and details of back-marks (lettering and symbols on the obverse of buttons) many times one

can determine the date and location of manufacture. Not only are buttons of the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service, Life-Saving Service, Lighthouse Establishment and Service and Coast Guard included, but backmarks of all metal United States military, government, railroad and more

are included.

Although backmarks do not always reveal their dates, many times this book will be of help. For example, if your button is backmarked “Scovill Mf’g Co.” it probably dates c.1850. However, if the backmark reads “Scovill Mf’g Co. Waterbury Conn.”, then it is post 1900.

Both books are hard bound, of high quality with literally hundreds of photographs and are a “must” for collectors and historians alike.

Another interesting historical source if you have not yet fount it is the web site

of the U.S. Coast Guard Historian at http://www.uscg.mil/history/ The Coast Guard is one of the oldest organizations of the federal government and, until the Navy Department was established in 1798, served as the nation’s only armed force afloat.

On their extensive site, are hundreds of photos and historical documentation arranged by subject. Subjects include: Coast Guard History, Photography, Frequently Asked Questions, What’s New?, About the Historian’s Office, Today in Coast Guard History, Coast Guard Museum, Coast Guard Artifacts, Cutters & Craft, Aviation, Facilities & Shore Stations, Lighthouses, Lightships, LORAN & Other ATON, Personnel, Heroes, Minorities & Women, Coast Guard in War, Search & Rescue, Law Enforcement, Marine Safety & Environmental Protection, Alaska, Ice & Polar Operations, Bibliography, Uniforms, Medals, & Flags, Historic Documents, Oral Histories, For Teachers & Kids and more. On the site you can find copies of early uniform regulations for the Lighthouse Service, photos and specifications of every U.S. lightship, accounts of Life Saving Service personnel who received the gold life-saving medal, and much more.

The web site is well worth spending an hour or two looking through it.

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 March 2008 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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