Digest>Archives> Jan/Feb 2018

Collecting Nautical Antiques

A Few More Finds

By Jim Claflin


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Commerce Secretary (later President) Herbert ...

This fall we have found a number of wonderful and rare items. One of the more interesting is a U.S. Life-Saving Service aneroid wall barometer.

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U.S. Life-Saving Service barometer in original ...

This exquisite piece once hung on the life-saving station wall near the door, above the Coston flare rack and was manufactured for the U.S. Life-Saving Service in the latter part of the 19th Century, probably in the 1870s. The 5” face of this early piece is of white porcelain, with the insignia of the Life-Saving Service in the center surrounded by the barometric scale. The barometer has a brass bezel with fine beveled glass, mounted in original two-piece oak case.

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The 5” barometer face was of white porcelain, ...

This style of wooden case was the standard for the Life-Saving Service and measures 7 ½” square by 2 ½” deep with original brass hanger on the back. The case bears the original Life-Saving Service inventory number ”99” on back upper corner as was standard. I have seen numbers as high as #160 over the years. Also on the back is an early calibration label dated 16 June 1943, indicating that the Coast Guard continued to use this barometer in the station through World War II.

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Lighthouse Tender Columbine. The first LHT ...

The mechanism in these instruments was probably manufactured by either Short & Mason of London or Hulot & Naudet of Paris, as aneroid barometers were not generally made in the United States until the 1890s by Taylor and others.

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The barometer typically hung on the life-saving ...

The barometers were used by the Keeper to estimate coming weather. A rising barometer is a general indication of improving weather, and a falling barometer indicates that a storm may be on the way. The lower the reading the more severe the weather may be. Barometric pressure readings were recorded in the Rough Log by the man on watch in the tower. The Keeper recorded the readings for midnight, sunrise, noon and sunset in the station Journal, along with the events of the day.

With wonderful finish and patina, this is a superb item for any collection or display and is an extremely rare piece.

For additional information on the furnishings and equipment used at life-saving stations, you will want to read: Ryder, Richard G. Seashore Sentinel: The Old Harbor Lifesaving Station on Cape Cod. (West Barnstable. 2009. 120p. Soft wraps.)

Yearly Annual Reports of the Lighthouse Service listed sometimes hundreds of instances of employees saving life and property or rendering valuable aid, often at great risk to the lighthouse employees themselves. Some of these acts were especially meritorious, and in such cases the employees were individually commended or awarded medals by the Secretary of Commerce.

One interesting piece that we recently obtained is a photograph of Commerce Secretary (later President) Herbert Hoover as he awards Second Officer Norman C. Manyon of the Lighthouse Tender Columbine the Gold Life Saving Medal on February 16, 1927. The gold medal was awarded by the Government in testimony of “heroic daring displayed in rescuing part of the crew from the disabled Coast Guard patrol boat at the entrance to San Juan Harbor on November 8, 1925.” On November 6, 1925 the lighthouse tender Columbine, Capt. N.C. Manyon, commanding, had saved from drowning seven men aboard Coast Guard patrol boat No. 245, who were in great danger of being lost at the entrance to San Juan Harbor, P.R., during a very heavy sea.

Writers J. R. Lee and Ted A. Morris described the scene: “CG-245 was one of two hundred and three 75-foot wooden hulled patrol boats built for the Coast Guard primarily to combat “rum runners” of the Prohibition Wars during the 1920s and 1930s.  Manned by eight to ten men, they were equipped with two 400HP Sterling 6-cylinder gasoline engines, with a top speed of about 15 knots…. Under the command of Warrant Boatswain (Bosun) S.B. Natwig that fateful day in November, the CG-245 was returning to San Juan Coast Guard Base From a coastal patrol … The weather had been calm until the afternoon when storm clouds and rough seas began forming along the north coast….

Weather conditions worsened, heavy rain and high seas battered the CG-245.  Bosun Natwig increased speed. By late afternoon the vessel reached the sea buoy marking the entrance to the channel into San Juan. The decision was made to attempt an entry into the safety of the harbor. All hands were at their stations and the vessel secured against the crashing seas.

Suddenly a tremendous wave driven by the increasing wind broke over the stern and roared along the 75 foot length of the CG-245. Ships Cook, O.A. Williams manning an exposed lookout position was torn loose and washed overboard.  Bosun Natwig attempted to maneuver his vessel to recover Williams but high waves battered the CG-245 and drove her out of the ship channel.  She was in danger of being driven onto the shore near El Morro Fortress.  While crew members tossed life buoys and lines in a vain attempt to rescue Williams, others prepared to drop the ship’s anchor to prevent being driven ashore. Temporarily anchored, the CG-245 was continuously battered by increasingly heavy seas.  Bosun Natwig sent a radio call for assistance.

The U.S. Lighthouse Service buoy tender COLUMBINE under command of Captain Norman Manyon got underway and made several attempts to take CG-245 under tow and out of danger.  [The Columbine in her efforts to approach the patrol boat was several times in danger of being overwhelmed by the waves.] The worsening sea conditions thwarted every attempt, so the decision was made to put the COLUMBINE along side the CG-245 to remove the crew.  Captain Manyon successfully completed this maneuver and rescued all crew members. In the continuing storm the COLUMBINE pulled away leaving the CG-245 anchored in the heavy seas.  During the night its anchor tore loose and the CG-245 was swept out to sea.  Smashed by the heavy seas, she sank…. Several days later, as the storm subsided, the body of O.A. Williams was recovered….” (Excerpted from: The Final Patrol of U.S. Coast Guard Patrol Boat CG-245 “Belle of San Juan” by J. R. Lee, AOC, USCG, Retired and Ted A. Morris, Lt. Col., USAF, Retired. 1998.)

The officers and crew of the Columbine were commended by the Secretary of Commerce for their courageous conduct, and the Commandant of the Coast Guard praised the work, saying that they “undoubtedly saved the lives of the crew of the patrol boat.” The caption on the photo mentions that Captain Manyon had been commended for heroic action in saving life at sea on seven occasions.

Indeed, The Commerce Report from 1916 makes mention of Manyon with reference to another rescue: “Several employees of the United States Bureau of Lighthouses have been commended during the past month for services rendered under circumstances which required the display of courage in the saving of lives or property. Among the incidents that called for special mention was one in which …. Rufus A. Brooks, master of lighthouse tender Jessamine, the second officer, Norman C. Manyon, and four seamen of that tender, and William M. Midgett, assistant keeper of Love Point Light Station, Md., [were commended] for assistance rendered in rescuing from drowning a man in the vicinity of Love Point Light Station.”

In still another instance, the officers and crew of the “…Tender Columbine rendered valuable assistance in the case of the grounding of the Cunard Lines steamer Franconia, entering San Juan Harbor, P.R., on December 26, 1926.

By 1930, it appears that Captain Manyon had transferred from his position on tenders and was listed as Superintendent of the 9th Lighthouse District (Jan 1930 - Oct 1934), and later 4th Lighthouse District (Oct 1934 - 1 Feb 1937), and 5th Lighthouse District (1 Feb 1937 - 1939?).

I suspect that further investigation into the life and career of Superintendent Manyon would reveal a life full of dedication and service – a good feature article I suspect.

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 Jan/Feb 2018 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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