Digest>Archives> May 2002

Collecting Nautical Antiques

Frugality in the Lighthouse Service

By Jim Claflin


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I am sure that you have heard from time to time of the frugality of the Lighthouse Service. Virtually every item used by the service was marked in some fashion to prevent loss or theft, and keepers were required to account for each and every item inventoried to their station. In going through a list of Lighthouse Service District Circulars, kindly provided by Ken Black of the Shore Village Museum, I came across the following circular which points out this characteristic quite well. I thought that it’s worth printing in its entirety:

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DISTRICT CIRCULAR Office of Superintendent, 1st District,

LETTER NO. 140 Portland, Maine. September 24, 1932


1. Employees will hereafter use both sides of letterheads in communications to this office. Article 69, “Instructions to Employees, 1927,” is modified to the extent provided.

2. Letterheads 8” x 5 1/4” and envelopes 3 1/2” x 6” will be used instead of larger sizes whenever possible. Light keepers will hereafter submit their monthly reports, form 65, in 3 1/2” x 6” envelopes, where no fog signal report, form 66, is required to be submitted. Where from 66 is required to be submitted, both reports will be submitted in a single 3 7/8” x 8 7/8” envelope, instead of being submitted in separate envelopes, or using a 9 1/2” x 12” Kraft envelope for the purpose, as has been done by some keepers.

3. Paragraph 2 of “Instructions” on the reverse side of form 95, “Requisition for Articles,” is amended to the extent that, whenever space will permit, explanation of the emergency and necessity of the articles requested will be written on the requisition itself, following the list of items, instead of submitting a letter therewith.

4. Envelopes addressed to this office should be held open until just prior to mailing in order that as few envelopes as possible will be used. It is not desired, however, that envelopes be filled to the extent that they might break open in handling.

5. Strict compliance with these instructions will be required of all employees.

6. This circular should be read and initialed by all assistant keepers at light stations.

[signed] Sherman


Some time ago we came across this item which serves to point out another characteristic of the Lighthouse Service. The item pictured is a United States Lighthouse Service Silver “Table Butler.” A “Table Butler” was an item used while dining in which to gather or brush crumbs from the dining table. As you can imagine this was an item not for the average lighthouse keeper, but for the more elegant dining situations on the Lighthouse Tenders with the Lighthouse Inspector on board, or for the Administration. This beautiful item is silver plate and measures 12 1/4” in length and approximately 2 5/8” in width at its widest point. It is entirely of silver plated brass, and bears the original engraved insignia of the Lighthouse Service with image of lighthouse within circle, and the words: “UNITED STATES LIGHTHOUSE SERVICE.” The back is marked “Rogers Bros. 847 Silver Plate.” This is the only such item that I have ever seen and is probably one of the very few in existence. I think that it points out the fact that the Lighthouse Service was certainly a dignified organization and strove to provide the highest quality living conditions for shipboard officers and administration in keeping with the highest traditions of the maritime services.

Next time we will take a look the works of noted maritime author Edward Rowe Snow. I hope that you will continue to send in your questions on the subject 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 specialty since the early 1990’s. He may be contacted by writing to him at 30 Hudson Street, Northborough, MA 01532, or by calling 508-393-9814. You may also contact him by email: jclaflin@lighthouseantiques.net or visit his web site at www.lighthouseantiques.net

This story appeared in the May 2002 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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