Digest>Archives> March 2008

Ponce De Leon Inlet Light Station Makes Major Artifact Purchase


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Ponce de Leon Inlet Light Station.

The Ponce de Leon Inlet Light Station, in Ponce Inlet, Florida, has announced the acquisition of an important lighthouse optic. This is a fixed, rather than flashing, third order middle Fresnel lens. The lens was made in the mid-nineteenth century by Chance Brothers of Birmingham, England. It is complete with an incandescent oil vapor lamp and tanks for kerosene and compressed air, and is one of only two such lenses in the United States.

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The rare Fresnel lighthouse lens recently ...

Chance Brothers learned from the expertise of renowned French glass makers to become the largest British manufacturer of window and plate glass as well as optical glass, making all sorts of scientific products such as beakers, retorts, glass slides, and lenses. In 1850, they secured the contract for the glazing of the spectacular Crystal Palace that housed the Great Exhibition of 1851.

Sir James Timmins Chance founded the lighthouse works of Chance Brothers, once again building on the skills of the French, specifically Augustin-Jean Fresnel, inventor of the Fresnel lens. At first, the company produced only glass prisms for Fresnel-type lenses. When complaints came in regarding the effectiveness of their prisms, investigation revealed that it was not the quality of the glass but errors in setting the prisms causing the problems. The company determined to make their own lenses and eventually manufactured every piece of the necessary equipment including lenses, lamps, rotational mechanisms, fog signals, and even plans for entire lighthouses. The first illuminant used in Chance Brothers lenses was kerosene. In the 1920s the company took on all aspects of electric lighting for its lenses and lighthouses. Between 1855 and 1919, Chance Brothers constructed 1059 sets of lighthouse optical systems including first order and huge hyper-radial lenses.

The lens purchased by the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse Preservation Association may date from as early as 1850. Before the twentieth century, the location for this lens is unknown, but by 1921 it was in use on Hannibal Island off Australia's Queensland coast. The tanks and lamp may have come from another Australian lighthouse located at Cape Don, not far from Hannibal Island.

The Ponce Inlet Lighthouse staff is internationally known for its pioneering work in the restoration of classical Fresnel lenses. Restoration work has been planned for the Chance Brothers lens, and preliminary assessments of the artifact's condition are underway. When restoration is complete, the lens will go on display in the museum's Lens Exhibit Building.

Individuals in the lighthouse community are invited

to participate in the acquisition of the Chance Brothers

lens. Donations at all levels are sought. For more information about the benefits of sponsorship for this project, please contact Ellen Henry, Curator, at 386-761-1821 or ellen@ponceinlet.org.

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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