Digest>Archives> April 2004

Collecting Nautical Antiques

Buyer Beware

By Jim Claflin


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Once again I would like to touch on a subject that continues to plague collectors and apparently bears repeating - the continued proliferation of fake and replica “antiques” on the market.

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As with most antiques and artifacts of this and other services, the key to building a good collection relies on a bit of research and a good eye for detail. In the last few years, with the increased interest in the subject, there has been a proliferation of non- authentic insignia and other items on the market. Many collectors are beginning to purchase these designs for hundreds of dollars each, presuming they’re authentic. For this reason I thought that we should again look at a few recent glaring examples that have come up for auction.

The first glaring example is a brass “oil can” that recently sold at auction. The can is poorly marked on the bottom “USLHS” and should immediately raise questions to the collector. First, such cans were NEVER marked using these letters nor were they hand stamped in an irregular manner as this one is. All items produced by or for the Lighthouse Establishment/Service were always of the highest quality, made from the very best materials, and any labeling or markings were always absolutely straight and uniform. In this example, the letters are each crooked and not in a straight line, and are irregularly spaced, indicating that this was placed on a dowel and stamped by using individual letter stamps. This would not have been done by the Lighthouse Establishment, as all of their stamps were of one piece and absolutely uniform. Unfortunately, this $15 piece recently sold for $522.

A second item recently seen at auction was a Corbin padlock with the letters “USLSS” nicely stamped into the case. A little research indicated that this design of padlock was not produced by Corbin until 1960, more than 45 years after the Life Saving Service was dissolved. Though the seller did suggest in his description that there might be such a discrepancy, the lock, a $2 value, still sold in the hundreds of dollars.

Insignia continue to be made overseas and represented in this country as authentic. In the last few years we have seen 40 or more designs of what are represented as Life Saving Service and Lighthouse Service cap or uniform insignia on the market, though in fact there were no more than three or four in use over the service’s history. In addition such pieces are extremely poorly done but continue to command prices in the many hundreds of dollars.

The best defense against purchasing items which may not be authentic is still knowledge of the subject. Use any resources available to you to research the subject and gather further information before you buy.

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. Jim, owner of Kenrick A Claflin & Son Nautical Antiques, may be contacted by writing to him at 1227 Pleasant Street, Worcester, MA 01602, or by calling 508-792-6627. Email: jclaflin@lighthouseantiques.net or visit his web site at www.lighthouseantiques.net

This story appeared in the April 2004 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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