Digest>Archives> November 2008

Collecting Nautical Antiques

Highland Lighthouse Souvenir Pitcher

By Jim Claflin


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Pictured is one of the most beautiful pieces of souvenir china that I have yet found. I picked this up at last year’s Antique Souvenir China Show held in Taunton, Mass. This large early milk pitcher, the largest that I have yet seen, features a lovely image of Cape Cod’s Highland Light Station in blue both on the front and on the back. This stunning piece measures a full 7” tall, and 7” from spout to handle. The bottom is marked “Adams, England. Made for T’e Town Crier Gift Shop, Provincetown, Mass.”

In the 1890s pictorial souvenir china was introduced to the United States from Europe for the enjoyment of vacationers throughout the country, much the same as you might take home a tee shirt or pamphlet on your summer getaway. Because of their beauty, and the fact that cameras were not readily available to capture the scenes, such pictorial pieces were in great demand. Soon a wide variety of shops and merchants began offering such items with local views.

Whatever your area of interest there is bound to be a segment of souvenir china collecting that will capture your imagination. While some collect pieces from their hometown, others concentrate on particular views such as lighthouses, life-saving stations, railroads, steamships, mills, and more.

One of the most interesting features of china collecting is the wide variety of styles and scenes depicted. Souvenir china was made in countless designs and most bore beautiful gold leaf borders and trim. Some forms commonly seen include cup with saucer, plate, mug, folded edge dish, dresser tray, butter pat, creamer, sugar, salt & pepper, pin tray, hot plate, vase, stamp or match box, desk items, ink well, powder jar, shoe, touring car, candlestick, urn, pitcher, cheese keeper, basket, fish, and many more.

The majority of these souvenir pieces were manufactured in Germany and Austria and some in England and imported for area shops by such companies as C.E. Wheelock & Company of Peoria, Illinois; Clark, Adams & Clark of Boston, and many more. In 1891 the McKinley Tariff Act required that the country of origin be shown on all imported items. As an added marketing incentive, importers began offering merchants the opportunity to have their shop’s name imprinted on the bottom of the piece. Therefore, pieces without such markings on the bottom probably date prior to 1891.

The value of souvenir china generally depends on two considerations: condition and rarity. Though these pieces are quite delicate, most seemed to have survived the 100 years since their manufacture in remarkably good condition. While hometown scenes may range in price from $24-74, lighthouse scenes may fetch from $45 up to $200 or more depending on the location. Life-saving stations, shipwrecks, Revenue Cutters and other similar scenes may bring still more. Generally speaking, pieces in the higher ranges should be in near fine condition and of an unusual design and/or of a rare light or station. One of the best locations to find these pieces seems still to be local flea markets and antique shops. It is uncommon to find an antique shop without at least a few styles and scenes, hopefully including one for which you are searching. Many pieces are now finding their way onto Internet auctions as well.

You can see this and thousands of other pieces at this year’s Souvenir China Show to be held in Taunton, Mass. on November 9th. Please contact me for time and directions if you can make it and I would look forward to chatting with you.

Oh, and the value for this stunning piece — in the $550 range, so keep your eyes open at your local shops.

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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 November 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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