Digest>Archives> August 2008

Collecting Nautical Antiques

Hains Auxiliary Lamps

By Jim Claflin


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Three times a year, Brimfield, Massachusetts is host to the largest outdoor antiques show in the country. The show’s web site notes that the "Brimfield Antiques Show began in the 1950s and during show week, the town’s population balloons from a population of 3,000 to over 250,000 visitors and over 5,000 dealers for the 6 days that the show operates. Dealers come from all over the world as do the visitors. From millionaire world-famous rock stars, to the local residents down the street, the show is a Mecca for serious and casual collectors of all kinds of antiques. The show lasts for more than a week and is held three times each year — May, July and September." I have rarely missed attending at least one or two days in each of the shows weeks in the last thirty years and often come home with a carload of wonderful finds.

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It was this past May that I was walking, booth to booth, through one of the many antique filled fields along the mile long route. As I asked my usual "Anything Coast Guard, Lighthouse or Life Saving…", I looked beneath the table and spied two tall brass lamps lying on the grass. Remembering a 4th order Hains Mineral Oil Lamp that I had in the past, I picked them up to examine them. There were no markings (Hains lamps were not marked in any way) but they had the identical shape and configuration, although taller and more slender. As I negotiated with the owner on the final price (one almost never pays asking price at this show), I became more convinced that these must be a Hains lamp design as well.

Peter Conover Hains was born on July 6, 1840 in Philadelphia. He received an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1857 and was a classmate of George Armstrong Custer. He was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the artillery and by 1862, during the Civil War, he transferred to the engineers and saw action in 30 engagements, receiving awards for Gallantry and Meritorious Service.

After the war, in 1866, Hains was transferred to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and by 1870, he was promoted to the rank of Major, serving as District Engineer for the Fifth Lighthouse District of the U.S. Lighthouse Service. He was responsible for the construction of many lighthouses including the Morris Island Lighthouse and the St. Augustine Lighthouse. By 1873, he was appointed Engineer Secretary of the U.S. Lighthouse Board, serving for five years. While serving on the Board, he translated Memoir Upon the Illumination and Beaconage of the Coasts of France, a standard in European lighthouse design and construction and sought after today. It was during this period in his career that he apparently designed a number of lamps for use within the newly installed Fresnel lenses in this country. One well known lamp was his Mineral Oil Lamp for 4th, 5th and 6th Order Lenses. Plate No. 3 in the 1881 Instructions to Keepers provides a wonderful diagram (shown) with good detail of this important lamp that saw use for many years. Lesser known is his lamp designed for standby use and possibly for use in the keeper’s quarters as well.

The body of this standby lamp resembles his early design, and may have been based on an 1860s French design. The stand is of the American Hains that we are familiar with, and the top is fitted with threads to receive an American Aladdin Type-B burner used from about 1900 onward.

These mineral oil lamps were for use within a 4th or 5th order Fresnel lens as standby oil lamps should difficulty arise with the IOV or other burner, or later with power for the electric lamp. These lamps were usually stored in the watchroom cabinet and placed in service during outages. Most stations would have probably had two such lamps. This style lamp may also have been used in 3rd - 5th order lenses. One colleague remembers as a boy, opening a cabinet in the Plymouth Gurnet lighthouse tower and seeing two of these lamps, standing on the shelf, clean and ready for backup use. Certainly many other light towers had similar lamps at the ready. Likely these lamps found use in the keepers’ dwellings as well.

As I write this, I am preparing for the July Brimfield week =- I wonder what I will find this time ?

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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 August 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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