First, as a young boy, and continuing through the many years of my life, I have been going to Long Beach Island for family trips and vacations. My favorite area of the island is Barnegat Light, which is on the northern-most tip of the 18 mile-long barrier island. New Jersey's barrier islands guard the bays and the mainland behind them from the crush of violent Atlantic Ocean surf during hurricanes and northeasters.
Barnegat Light is the most beautiful and natural place on the island. On the ocean side, the end of the island is guarded by a long stretch of high white sand dunes where wonderful and unique plant life grows, and which are inhabited by many other life forms. Black Pines, Cedar, Holly and Beach Plum are the predominant trees found at the start of the street-end paths that meander through the dunes to the beach. As one climbs the dunes and hikes toward the water, beach grasses, and low growing plants replace the brush and trees, and during the fall the Golden Rod display is beautiful. There is a thriving population of prey and predators as well-garter snakes, mice, rabbits, hawks, sparrows, cardinals, gulls, pigeons, land crabs, insects and fox.
I truly love the hike to the beach at any time of the day or night. The smell of the ocean air, the sound of the breaking waves on the shore, the feel of the wind on my face and in my hair, and the soft crush of sand under my feet-all fill me with happiness and peace. I am a creature of the sea, and my trips to be by the island’s ocean waters are some of the most fulfilling moments of my life.
Barnegat Light is named for the beautiful light house that warned long-ago mariners of one of the most treacherous inlets and shoal areas on the entire East Coast of the U.S. Far too many ships and boats, since the discovery of our eastern shores by the Vikings, have sunk on those shoals at the end of the island, or when trying to find mooring inside the inlet. Even today with all of the improvements in navigation, accidents happen, gear fails, and boats run aground on the shoals. I have found evidence of sunken ships and their cargos washed up on the sands after easterly storms.
My father and I have enjoyed many days and vacations together on LBI's North End, and the many lunches that were shared by the ocean or by the bay. When we take a walk by the bay to a spot to have lunch, our view is dominated by the dunes and bayside of Island Beach State Park-another barrier island to the northeast across the inlet, the dike at Highbar which is to the southwest, the lighthouse at the tip of LBI, and one store, Andy’s.
For me, Andy’s has always been a special place. At one time, a fishing dock was behind the store, and it always had a variety of people fishing and/or crabbing for tasty Blueclaw crabs, Flounder, Bluefish, Striped Bass, Weakfish, Kingfish, Blowfish, Black Seabass and Whitechin Tog. It was a great spot, but we all know how change occurs over time. That dock is only a fenced off remnant of its past glory.
The store is a combination gift shop and fishing tackle shop, and at one time, there was a restaurant that looked out over the bay. That restaurant no longer operates, and has been changed into a clothing store for the tourists. Between the gift shop and the clothing area, there is a curious mid-section. It is that mid-section that I go to see on a regular basis. In it are shelves filled with old bottles, turtle back trunks, lanterns, and many items that were gathered by the locals after long-ago ship groundings on the shoals. On those shelves one can see a visual feast of the island’s past. From the rafters hang glass fishing floats donated to Andy’s first owner, Carl Bjornberg, by commercial fishing friends from the past.
Mr. Bjornberg has long ago passed away, and now, his daughter Carlis runs the store, and takes care of the collection. The reader knows how fascinated I am by all of those wonderful glass floats, and the stories behind them. Luckily for me, Carl’s daughter is a very friendly and gracious person. She has allowed me to take down and handle some of those floats, especially the wonderful Teardrop float that hangs there.
Until I was very fortunate in a trade with a friend and collector of authentic colored glass floats, and obtained a Teardrop, I was a prime example of one of Pavlov’s dogs, salivating over that float in Andy’s-every time that I saw it. Of course, I asked to purchase it, but was nicely told, “No, it was a gift given to my Dad.” It was given to Mr. Bjornberg many years ago, by one of the local commercial fishermen, who told him how special it was because of its shape. The owner gave me permission to take it down, clean it off and photograph it for my files.
What a wonderful float it is. Made from uncolored glass, it is very clear, without any interior fogging, a curious applied seal, and the words, “Pat Pend,” embossed in a circular fashion on the bulbous end of the float. The float is 12" long, 7" in diameter, made in a 3-piece mold, and has an applied seal. Both the float in my collection and the float at Andy’s are identical. Their glass is also identical to the glass found on Neversink floats, and the letters on the embossing appear to have been created by the same engraver.
The Neversink floats are uncolored, round glass balls, which come in two sizes that I have seen, and embossed GB5, and GB8. There are examples of a pseudo-amber GB. I say “pseudo-amber,” because the only one that I have seen was not purposely colored amber. It is one of those floats which came from a glass mixture that was made in a pot that first had either clear or amber glass in it, and not throughly cleaned out before one or the other colored glass was added to it-perhaps at the end of a previous job. The color of that float is not golden, brown/amber, or any other shade of purposely-amber colored glass.
The letters, “GB,” are widely assumed to mean, “Great Britain” Both of the floats, the Neversink and the Teardrop have previously been thought to be European-made floats. The reader must understand, that not that long ago, the collecting of European glass fishing floats was not taken seriously by most glass ball collectors, who instead, were collecting Asian, specifically Japanese glass floats. What information was available to the very few European float collectors mostly came from, “word of mouth,” or guesswork.
Noting how difficult it still is for today’s European glass float collectors to get verifiable historical evidence of the makers of the floats, approximately 30-40 years after the first Euro collectors started collecting, one must consider the limitations of the past, and accept the information from those pioneers, as having been honest to the best of their knowledge. Slowly, we are making progress in the historical unfolding of European float manufacturing. It is my impression that ascribing both the clear 12" Pat Pend Teardrop, and the Neversink GB5, and GB8 to being European floats, and specifically to having been manufactured in Great Britain, is a mistake. I base this theory on assumptions, not facts. I have not been able to actually find the glassworks that was responsible for their creation. My guesswork is based on the following:
The letters, “GB,” could also mean, “Glass Ball.” The numbers following the letters, “5 and 8,” are exactly the diameters of the floats with those markings. I find it plausible that “GB5, or GB8" mean “Glass Ball 5" diameter” and Glass Ball 8"diameter.” The missing abbreviation for diameter would have been extra work for the engraver, and to the user, was easily understood as being unnecessary. Either they or the net maker knew what size float was to be incorporated into the net.
As mentioned earlier, the clear, uncolored glass looks to have come from the same glass making formula. More importantly than the glass, is the embossing. Both types of floats have what appears to me to be same-shaped lettering, and more importantly, an embossing strike that is faint and difficult to read.
The Pat. Pend embossing is normally easier to read, than either of the, “Neversink, GB,” embossings, but often, does not stand out clearly. When an Ebay auction for the Neversink floats infrequently appears, often the seller needs to be questioned whether there is a marking. The answer is normally, “Yes, there is a mark, but I didn’t notice it.” Often the answer also states that part of, or most of, the embossing is missing. As the reader can see in my photos of the Neversink, the cachet is extremely hard to capture in the camera’s lense, no matter what light source I’ve used. So many times I have been in excellent light with the float in my hand, turning it slowly as I look through the viewfinder, trying to see the mark perfectly, in order to get a good photo. Yet my best efforts are lacking in perfection.
Ken Busse has an example of a Neversink GB5, that has the best embossing that I have seen, yet still is nothing close to the quality of the normal British embossed floats. The cachet on a British float is never hard to see or photograph, unless there is damage from usage or from sand abrasion which often occurs on a beachcombed float. There is no good reason that I know of, other than a poorly engraved mold, for the lack of a clear marking on these floats. The glass is normally undamaged from use except for a few scratches.
The strongest proof that I have for these being considered as a new listing for American-made floats, comes from tracing Ebay glass float auctions. Neither the Neversinks or the Pat Pend floats appear with any regularity. In the years that I have been following the auctions, I can say with certainty that combined, if there have been twenty auctions for these floats, that would be a lot. Most importantly, I have not seen a single auction of any of these floats described as having been found in Great Britain or any other European country.
Except for the occasional auction coming from the western United States from an established collector or seller, each and every auction of either of these floats has originated from the East Coast of the U.S., primarily from one of the Northeastern States. These floats have been found in Massachusetts, Connecticut, coastal New Hampshire and coastal New York.
The Teardrop in my collection was beachcombed in the 1930's, together with three others, by a young girl on Block Island. It was purchased in a Cape Cod antique shop from its original finder, in 1998. In 2008, it found it’s present home. Two of those beachcombed Teardrops were netted, and both the floats and their nets were painted red and white, as seen in the above photo.
I have another interesting piece of history concerning an auction for a Teardrop. Here is the email that I received:
This float was found off the shore of Long Island, probably east of Montauk Point, as my dad was a Sword Fisherman, and it hung in our garage when I was a kid, and I asked him about it, and he said he had picked it up off shore, so we left it at that, then when I was older I fished with him and we always fished east of Montauk so I assumed it came from somewhere out there. After he passed away, I hung it in my garage and it’s been there since all of the grime on it has just collected over the years. I am 67 years old so it’s been around a long time. Silvio”
Unlike the large Norwegian floats known as Teardrops, Light Bulbs or Sea Dogs, these floats are smaller in size, but it is possible that they had the same use. The Norwegian floats were used in place of wooden barrels and wooden markers, which often burst from water pressure when pulled far enough below the water’s surface to cause damage, as well as eventually leaking. It is quite possible that these smaller Teardrop floats were also used by inshore fishermen as marker buoys.
Prior to the 1980's, there had been a commercial gill net fishery for bay, inshore and surf fish in the Northeastern States. The boats used were smaller than a normal commercial craft, were mostly open bay boats with flat bottomed hulls or were dories or other styles having hulls constructed in a rounded V-shape with a deeper keel. The dories did not have cabins to cook and sleep in, and were often launched from the shoreline each time they were used. The surf fishermen during the early years, rowed over and through the surf's waves, then in the years following the introduction of outboard motors, used a combination of oars, and motors to propel them through the surf to retrieve their nets, and hopefully, their catch. The nets used in these fisheries were not as deep or as large as a normal cod gill net, and the American Teardrops would have been a good size to use to mark these net sets with.
What other uses they may have had, I do not know. I believe that they were made and used between WWI and 1950. There is no evidence that I have found that would indicate their usage prior to those years. Also, it appears as if the production of these floats was not large in numbers. Any one of these three float would be a prime float to add to a collection.
If anyone who reads this post has proof that contradicts my thesis, kindly send it to me to be shared, or post a comment. As for now, I believe that we have three “new” floats to add to the list of American-made floats.
The Pat Pend mark photo was contributed by Ken Busse.
The Red and White Teardrop photo was a gift from my trading partner.
The other photos belong to the author.