Sunday, June 21, 2009

From 1 Degree To 179 Degrees West Longitude 1981

The cover photo of the 1981 Charles Abernethy booklet shows Charles standing among the wares of the Ship's Chandlers in Lerwick, the Shetlands. When I first looked at that photo, I wondered if it was Charles, and while looking at the man holding this small Herring by the tail, there was no mistaking the humorous intention. It is a photo of Charles Abernethy.

Charles starts out the booklet by writing:

1981 began as a year with no prospects at all for glass floats, but ended up with a steady stream of packages flowing westward from 1 degree W. Longitude and eastward from 179 degrees W. Longitude. Additionally, I received a half dozen super floats in a hardware store right in downtown Pittsburgh.

1981, too, is particularly noteworthy for it marks the first time I have invaded the European float market some 25 years after glass floats were discontinued there, and with a surprisingly high degree of success.

The last paragraph got my European float collector’s blood boiling! Before we get to that portion of the booklet, I’d like you to read about:


Charles wrote: I have often gone into Matt’s Bargain Store on Liberty Avenue in downtown Pittsburgh for nuts and bolts, eyeing each time occasional ship’s fog horns, brass cannons, ship’s wheels and brass-framed port holes. “I do a pretty good business in that nautical stuff,” Matt said one day, setting off the fog horn. I showed him some floats with which he was unfamiliar. Then some months later he called to say he’d received a new shipment of nautical items “from the coast,” which included some floats, and would I come down to make sure they were genuine and not fakes?

I was amazed to see a dozen magnificent 9, 12, and 14 inchers, and all with excellent nets. I assured him they were genuine, all right, as fakes are not ordinarily made so large, and too, these were all covered with dried sludge from the sea and tar from the decks of ships. And all had certainly seen sea duty. The 9-inchers had beautiful intricate nylon nets and the others crude manila nets. A thorough scrubbing restored both the glass and the nets to their pristine sparkling beauty. I bought six. The prize was a robust 14" with a strange thick reddish rubber collar under its net in the center of which was a 1' high neck 2" in diameter and threaded on the inside. I had never seen one like it before...and then I remembered...”Of course! They are used in long-line Pacific Tuna fishing.” The tuna craft play out as much as 50 miles of continuous line with baited hooks at fixed intervals and large 12" or 14" floats, too, are dropped overboard not only as markers but also to hold the baited hooks near the surface. The rubber collar type have bamboo poles screwed into the threaded necks sporting flags of red and white cloth for easy spotting from the ship. To avoid the lines snarling or knotting, brass swivels are used every thousand feet or so. For every hundred hooks a metal buoy with a battery powered light on top is released not only as a method for keeping a control on the various lengths of the line but as an easy way to keep track of the entire operation at night.

As a ship patrols its lines, a wobbling bamboo pole with its flag waving, tells the crew fish have taken the bait, and at once a small boat is dispatched to haul in the catch. Two tons is a good day’s catch.

Fleets of long-line tuna craft ply the Pacific from many ports. One such fleet operates out of Pago Pago, and each ship in gone for two months. It’s hard work...the 50-mile long line of several thousand hooks is baited, paid out overboard, pulled up and then baited again every 24 hours. Frozen summa fish of a uniform 8" length makes hook baiting a quick and efficient chore. The small crew works in shifts, and each man works quickly and silently at his particular job. There are lulls in the busy work day, of course, and the crew of young Orientals finds time for never ending chopstick meals of rice and soups. And you may be sure no tuna long-line fishing ship ever leaves Pago Pago Harbor without its record player ready on the fantail!

KURE ISLAND “MINIS” The Float-Of-The-Month Club

Last January I received an article in “Old Glass” magazine from a friend which told of a remote Pacific Ocean Coast Guard station on Kure Island (1 mile x 1.5 miles) a few miles east of the International Date Line (179 degrees W. Longitude). A handful of men operate a weather station there, and to while away lonely hours jog around its perimeter, play endless table tennis and a few occasionally collect floats which frequently wash ashore inches from their surf-side quarters.

As each man is returned to the States after his one year’s tour of duty, a farewell soiree is given at which he is jokingly decorated with a float. I wrote to the C.O. at once, and he put me in touch with one of his men who was a float collector.

At length I heard from one serviceman named Erik, the company clerk, who sent a Polaroid picture displaying 9 floats of various sizes (including 2 rollers) and a list of their diameters and prices. The diameters turned out to be circumferences, and the prices a bit on the Tourist Giftie Shoppe side. After a brief exchange of correspondence, our Float-Of-The-Month Club came into being, and continued very pleasantly, for 10 months. Thereafter as regularly as the once-a-month-ration-and-mail plane from Hawaii touched down on his coral shores, I received a box containing a few assorted floats varying from tiny 2.5" minis to sturdy 5" light greens, and including the two 5" rollers in his photo. Oddly enough none of his floats had nets, rollers were extremely rare, and only a few bore trademarks: those that did showed the common 3 verticle “hash marks” of the Kawaguchi Glass KK. During the summer months floats became scarce on Kure, as they wash ashore only during stormy seas and high winds.

I have read those passages at least a few times, found them enjoyable reads, yet always find myself becoming impatient-I want to read about the Euros! Charles does not disappoint.


I had long looked forward on my journey this July to the U.K. to occasional float junkets, my collection completely lacking in European floats (except for the pineappley Aegean float from Mykinos in ‘73). So, I was overjoyed in Brighton On The Channel to find several in the many antique shops, but alas, only one, a 5" olive, bore a trademark, naturally “English Made.”

In Plymouth, a broken-down dockside shop had three 5" olives but no trademarks. Everywhere in the U.K. I heard from fishermen that the windlass that hoists the catch up out of the sea through a metal bracket onto the deck of the ship, crushed the glass floats, so over a quarter of a century ago, they were replaced by the garish, gray ugly plastic floats. Their two holes on the sides make for instant threading with ropes to attach quickly to the fishing lines, doing away completely with float nets...certainly a time saver, yes, but you must remember, unlike plastic, glass floats always reflect light to reveal their whereabouts, however overcast the skies.

The English Trawler Fishermen called the glass floats, “Bobbins” or “Lights”. Charles goes on:

At Lerwick, stark capital of the stark Zetlands (the Shetlands,) I found but one float used as a window display at the “Bookstore,” a dark olive 5". The proprietress accepted my offer of 5 pounds, and I was delighted to gaze at its Three Leaf Clover mark, which (and with no proof at all) I immediately attributed to the seal of the King of Norway. After all, Norwegain fisheries have always dominated the Zetlands since time began. If the lady had not been willing to make the sale, I had ready in my sea bag a worthless, unmarked glass decoy to furtively switch when her eye might be averted. Like a kleptomaniac, Glass Float collectors have no honor.

A time consuming boat-by-boat canvas for floats among the fishing boats tied up a Lerwick’s docks always brought forth the same answer, “Haven’t used a glass float for over 25-30 years,” the weather beaten captains always replied. “We have a few, the wife and me...keep ‘em as souvenirs...wouldn’t part with them for any amount...

On St. Mary’s Island in the Isles of Scilly (never say “the Scilly Isles” please) a touristy dock-side shop was trying to foist off on the tourists, brand new shiny (but genuine) unmarked floats at really rip-off prices. Claimed they were found on remote out-islands and their nets were woven by fishermen’s wives!

To reach the fishermen who kept old floats as keepsakes in their cottages, upon returning home, I immediately placed an ad in the Lerwick Times for floats with trade marks only. After several nerve-racking weeks of waiting I received four replies offering a total of 20 floats, and only two were duplicates, the Clover Leaf mark. The very names of the places I heard from were enchanting: Hillswick, Burra, Yell and Fair Island. One woman claimed her 7 had washed up on her shores during WWI, and found by her father.

Negotiations to buy the floats presented a problem: just what was a fair price, and how much would the postal charges run? My first reply from Hillswick stated he had his singular 8" packed up but was thwarted by the excessive cost for shipping, and did I want my money returned? A collector has no choice–pay the fees and cut down elsewhere.

The first parcel arrived 39 days after it was mailed from Burra Island containing two 5"-a light green 3-leaf Clover and a dark olive Anchor. The postage (“carriage” as they call it) was a whopping $12.00!

The Hillswick parcel (carriage $15.90) contained two floats: a clear moulded 5" who’s bottom is quite thick bearing the trademark “British Made” in a circle within which is a 5-pointed sunburst, the other is a perfectly spherical gem 8" who’s mark is a W inside a box. While holding it up to the light it revealed a trillion tiny air bubbles glistening like the stars in the heavens.

The third parcel from remote Fair Island, contained 4 floats: a green Anchor, a green “S”, and the last two of the Arabic numbers 5 and 13, each in the center of a sunburst (like the Hillswick sunburst).

The sender writes, “...these floats, as far as I know are British made, and used by our fishing fleets up to 1928 when iron came in, then aluminum, and now it’s all plastic.”

He also has #’s 1, 4, and 10 for my next order. Why the numbers? What do they mean? Did the manufacturer put out “new, improved models”? Or was it a device to encourage to save the complete series, like Baseball Cards or numbered Pepsi caps to collect and trade among themselves during idle days? Picture a bearded fisherman holding out two #4's and saying, “Trade you these for one of your #8's...then, b’Gorry, I’ll have the complete set.” And why these numbered sunbursts peculiar only to Fair Island?

The last party, from Yell Island, delayed her reply because, 1) the weather was stormy, 2) she had no suitable box, and 3) she cannot walk in high winds (understandable, as there are no trees growing in the Zetlands to hold onto). En route are 7 floats with the following marks: a G (clear glass), and the rest green: a Z, and N, a Clover Leaf, 3 Overlapping Fishes, and two with an Anchor in a Rope Circle. She “wrapped each in thick cotton and sewed it, packing with plenty of newspaper around.” The carriage ran to $36.00 U.S.! The parcel will be so huge it will readily lend itself to become ballast in the stormiest of seas, and even if the ship struck an iceberg off the perilous Out Skerries Reefs, it couldn’t possibly sink. (This blog writer thinks that I should get a reduction on my homeowner’s insurance...there is no way that my house would sink in a flood! “There are floats all over the darn place!” My wife often, yet affectionately says). She continued: "I understand only the trawler fishermen used them. The herring nets are floated with wooden corks and the lines with canvas buoys. I suppose it will be all plastic now.” She ends with: I am glad to think someone will care. Here, after my time they would only be thrown out and broken.”

So, you see, others too have a sincere and tender regard for their floats.

Charles finishes by writing:


The Yell Isle WWI Special Seven Floats just arrived...not in one huge crate as I expected, but in 3 cardboard boxes, plastered with colorful sheets of postage stamps in small denominations. Each float was covered in neatly sewn cotton batting. Alas! One float, the “G” was shattered to smithereens. Unfortunately the lady did not stuff wadded newspapers around the floats as I suggested–she just laid carefully folded copies of the Aberdeen Sunday Post on the bottom of each carton.

The 3 Criss-Crossed Overlapping Fishes is far and away the most singular of her floats.

I would like to end this post with a story of my own, and a "Thank you," to Ken Busse. I have been especially looking forward to writing this particular post because of Ken.

Earlier in the Spring, he emailed to say that he had one of Charles Abernethy's floats on his website: GEMS OF THE OCEAN. I looked at the float, and expressed interest, but could not purchase it at that time. In preparation for this post, I reread Charles' booklet, and realized that the float that Ken had was the "S" marked float which came in the 3rd. parcel from Fair Island. I went back to Ken's website, noticed the float appeared to be available, and quickly sent an email off inquiring about the float. Fortunately, the float and the funds to make the purchase were both available.

During the years I have been "Ebay Beachcombing," many floats have come my way, and there have also been many which have not. The feeling of being "bummed," at having lost an auctioned float that I wanted, was quickly replaced during the first couple of losses, with the realizations that: I could not win them all; that someone else was lucky and happy and that there are floats that come via friends, auctions and new acquaintances which have a special feeling about them. There is an inward knowledge that a particular float was meant for me.

I'm certain that some after reading that paragraph, cannot identify with my thoughts, but for me it works. If I lose a float that I wanted, there is a good feeling that replaces frustration with expectancy and hope. Proof that sustains this way of being for me has happened over and over again.

In the case of the Abernethy "S" float, good fortune smiled on me, and not only was it still available, but since purchasing the float, a wonderful history has unfolded.

Starting with Charles' advertisement, the purchase of the float and its safe trip across the Atlantic from Fair Island, the float was special enough to be written about. After he passed, his daughter-in-law catalogued and sold the collection to dedicated collectors.

Ken told me that the float was purchased by Dave Lee. I've sent an email to Dave, asking him particulars about the "S" float, and am looking forward to his reply. Earlier, in my hunt for Abernethy information, Ken had introduced me to Dave, who wrote that he purchased a number of Charles' floats approximately 1993. When Dave saw that float in Ken's possession, he told him that he had purchased it from Charles' daughter-in-law, and that it then was passed onto Stu Farnsworth.

From Stu, the float passed onto Ken, and 28 years after Charles Abernethy received it, the float resides in my collection. What a truly nice history this float has. It's good to have documentation to go along with a float. It is the history that I am collecting, researching and writing about. I feel particularly fortunate to not only have one of Charles Abernethy's floats-one of his first Euros-but also a float that has previously been enjoyed by some truly great collectors and wonderful people.

The Auction That Started It All

Happy Father's Day!
I've been wanting to get back to writing about Charles Abernethy, and finally am taking time today to do so. This post will be a short one. It's written in preparation for the 1981 booklet, "1 Degree to 179 Degrees West Longitude 1981".

As the readers will recall in the first Charles Abernethy post, I was alerted to this man through the kindness of a fellow glass float collector: Todd, the "Norsknailpounder." Todd sent me an expired auction that whetted my appetitie to know more about Choly Abernethy. A great gift, as well as additional information from collector friends and the kindness of the auction's seller, started me on a path of knowledge about this great collector and fun-to-read writer.

In the wake of Todd's original email have come enjoyable acquaintances with others who knew of, and those who personally knew Charles. I am hoping that the trail of discoveries will continue. Perhaps one day I can find a way to contact his son Sam, or another member of his family who can tell me more about Charles.

Attached are photos of the auction, and perhaps they best explain why I was instantly excited to learn more.

The above photos are from the Ebay seller's auction which I copied to my files. They can be easily enlarged by left clicking on them.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Edge of the World

If you've been reading this blog, then you know that together with my passion for building a historical representation of the European and American glass fishing floats, I also have a keen interest in the history of the user's and makers of the floats. My findings come from such diverse locations. What happened to me yesterday, is an example of why I think that it is always important to imagine, and to keep the doors open to possibilities.

My crew and I started the day with another cleanup project. The sun was shining, and the temperature was excellent for working. It was early in the A.M., and the sun was not yet hot enough to keep the gnats off us. Thank goodness for, "Skin So Soft!"

As we worked, the sky began to cloud up, and looking North and West, it was apparent that something was moving our way. I left the crew to check out the weather map on the computer, and when I did, saw a tremendous line of thunder storms just crossing the Delaware River, and heading in our direction.

I turned on the TV to see the Weather Channel, and heard the storm warning beeping, and read about a severe line of thunder storms, lightening strikes, and possibly hail. Please no hail! Hail destroys the leaves on all the growing plants, and can damage the greenhouse coverings.

Quickly, I began to prepare everything: close all the doors; turn the fans off; make certain everything that could blow over or away-was inside and released the crew to get them home safe.

I knew that I had 15 to 30 minutes before the storms would reach us. Interactive weather maps with radar are terrific. So, I decided to see what might be on the morning's movies-157 channels, and hopefully something good was on. There was an old movie on The Movie Channel, showing in about an hour. It was called, "The Edge of the World." A 1937 movie, with the description, "lives of the dwellers of the Scottish Coastal Islands". Hmm. That sounded interesting, and the year of the film was at a key point in Herring fishing and glass float history. I began to hear thunder approaching.

The sky fully darkened with thick black/gray clouds, and the thunder became more ominous. Quickly, we were in the middle of a terrific thunder and lightening storm, with heavy rain falling. Beautiful rain with it's complement of airborne fertilizer, and the addition of the electrical ions from the lightening. All of the plants and trees would be happy. Here, in this small area of Southern New Jersey, we were in luck, because there was little wind with the portion of the storm line that hit us. The storm passed, and headed East. Luckily there were no blown over plants to pick up, and no hail had fallen. "A perfect storm."

The crew was off for the rest of the day, and I remembered the movie. Turning it on, I realized that only a few minutes had been missed. This is all being written because I want to alert you to keep your eyes open for this movie being played again, or perhaps you can rent it or borrow it from a library. It may even be online.

The movie was not too long. The storyline was well developed for its time length, and a pretty good one. Historically accurate, with excellent old footage of the Scottish island environment, including the surprise of seeing a good amount of film showing the Herring fishing industry. The film was taken during the heyday of Herring trawling, and shows the coal burning trawlers, Lowestoft vessels and their crews, the fish, the packers, and the dock workers. Should you see it, keep your eyes open for the unique mail system they developed between the islands and the mainland. I recommend this film highly to anyone interested in seeing actual footage of the enterprise wherein the glass floats were used in that locale.

Together with the desire to build the best European and American glass float collection that I could, I have been purchasing books, catalogues, and magazines containing information about the fishing history. Anyone who has tried to research glass floats only, knows that there is very little to be found. It has been my experience that in order to learn about floats, most of the knowledge of their use has come from studying the fishing history itself. From the study of the industry, surprises have come, as well as the leads for further investigation. There are some very good books that can be found on Ebay. Search for the books written by David Butcher. The titles that I own are:

Following the Fishing;
The Driftermen;
The Trawlermen
and Living From the Sea.

His books are a wonderful blend of his knowledge together with recorded conversations of the people who experienced those fishing times, both on land, and aboard the fishing vessels. Those conversations make up the bulk of each book, and every one is a great read.

All of the photos were copied from past Ebay postcard auctions, and can be enlarged. Notice the floats next to and behind the fisherman with the huge Halibut.

Saturday, June 06, 2009


Late this afternoon, a wonderful Ebay auction for a rare European brown amber Lanciotto glass float ended. The float has a unique 6-pointed star on the seal button, and a British Naval Anchor on the top of the float. I've never seen one like it before, and congratulations to the winner of that terrific float.

I wrote the seller Mr. Williams, for additional information, and here is what he wrote:

"It came from the southern part of Newfoundland, Canada. I bought this one with 49 others. Some were marked with, PCF, Clovers, F1, 1 anchor and others without markings. The Lanciotto was the only one I found like it."

Writing about the Lanciotto float seemed appropriate and fitting to add to the original theme for today's post-an incredible find: the first complete European sunturned-amethyst Ship's Wheel float that I have seen or heard of. This is the second example of this float on this blog, and the first one that is a fully intact float.

Perhaps the readers will remember the February post, "How Does It Make You Feel?", which showed the first photos of a partial Ships Wheel float found while on vacation, by a fellow collector and friend, Richard. Richard's float is also sunturned-amethyst.

This second example is a beauty. It was found this winter by a young collector named Clint. His father told me about his son's great good luck, and sent me photos of the float. I wanted to post the float photos and story to the blog right away, but knew that getting permission first was very important.

Just the other day, Clint returned from a long trip, and as he promised he would do upon his return, answered my email in which I asked for his permission to share this wonderful float with other collectors.

Clint is a true gentleman, and a fine young man. He wrote:

"Let me first say that I am honored by the offer to appear on your site! It's kind of a lonely feeling to have the only known complete specimen of this float in my hands--and I appreciate your support. Feel free to post photos, and write about it. It would be really great if someone out there who knows about this mark happened to stumble across your site, and would be willing to share their info. So far, I have only begun to research the history of actual ship's wheels, number of rungs, countries where used, etc. I have a feeling it's going to be a while before I figure out anything worthwhile."

The float was obtained in the Carribean, and as the photos show, still has the sea residue stuck to its body. Man! What a beautiful float!

There is a theory brewing in my mind. Manganese was added to glass mixtures that contained sand with too many iron oxides in it to produce colorless glass. The iron oxides act upon the glass mix causing various shades of color, especially aqua to green. Most authentic European glass fishing floats are green. Some are aqua, amber, and colorless. Then there are the amethyst colored floats, which started out as colorless, but over time and exposure to the ultraviolet rays of the sun, turned the wonderful shades of pink to violet. I am beginning to think that these manganese mixes for floats were produced in one country, and possibly one glass factory. I am leaning toward France as the country of origin.

I have not seen amethyst floats that I can identify with those known to have been made in England, Scotland, Norway, Germany or Sweden. I'm on the hunt, and hopefully will one day have an answer to my theory. As Clint says: "Maybe someone who stumbles across this post will share their knowledge?"

There is an open door in my mind with a welcome mat in front of it. There is anticipation for the information that I seek, and more of these wonderful floats to come through that door. Maybe one or both will join my collection one day?

Congratulations Clint!

The photos of the Lanciotto float are copied from Mr. William's Ebay auction.

Thank you Clint and your Father for sharing this wonderful Ships Wheel float and photos with the readers and I.

The photos of the Ships Wheel float can be enlarged by left clicking your cursor on the photos.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Charles Abernethy 1980

At the start of a new year, have you ever wondered if you would find any new floats to add to your collection? Would you have any luck on Ebay auctions? Would there be any great surprises in store for you? I have. Those thoughts sooner or later are "thunk" every year, and no matter how difficult or improbable it seems for great floats to find their way to me, they do. Ebay auctions have changed in a few ways, and it gets increasingly harder, and definitely more costly to find and win a rare float.

As the years have passed, and the collection has grown to its present size and quality, the need to add only truly hard-to-find floats or rarities, helps to account for my initial questioning at the new year's beginning. Good fortune continues to smile on me, friends contact me, trades happen, and occasionally, a great one comes from Ebay auctions. At each year's beginning, for more than 30 years, the glass float possiblility questions have been in my head, and have been answered in definitive and wonderful ways. It's June. The excitement continues. Will anything new come my way before this year's end?

Charles Abernethy, in his booklet: ME, MY FLOATS & 1980, starts out by writing:

1980, to me, was a very good year. I obtained 10 glass floats which made their way to me from as far as the edge of the Arctic Circle on the Pacific to clear down to Caribbean regions only 12 degrees above the Equator.

To be a really astute collector one must ruthlessly elbow ahead of his competitor. You must be first in your kayak in the Aleutians: you must be a knot ahead of your rival in your Caribbean schooner. There is no code of honor among float collectors: curare tiped arrows or a fatal slash of your machete are routine.

I have lookouts throughout the world poised on craggy eminences overlooking the Seven Seas, ever alert for a bobbing floats. Their orders are, "Use your blowgun first, then ask questions."

As I wrote in the first Abernethy post: he had to concoct imaginative ways to add floats to his collection! Charles lists that year's floats with some good memories that we can all relate to.

The Six-Inch Roller Float
Rarely, very rarely, one comes upon a Roller Float. In length they range from 4" to 18". Perhaps developed because a complex woven net is not needed-only a rope quickly knotted around each end-it somehow must have been considered impractical, because few are ever found. Inquiries to Japanese glass companies are never answered. The fact that roller floats are seldom found is the reason few find their way into shops. I received my 6-incher from an Oregon collector, who's been collecting for almost 50 years, perhaps as a result of a well-worded heart-melting plea.

The Inconspicuous 4-1/2" Green Float
This was acquired on the remote Caribbean Island of Bequia, in the Grenadine Islands. Remembering for 10 years that the beautiful Friendship Bay Hotel used floats as bar decorations, I returned there this past winter. There they were, un-swiped by collectors and innocently spreading Caribbean atmosphere. I asked if I might buy one. I was referred to the owner, "The Captain." This American worthy, a retired Navy Captain was lunching alone in the dining room, idly reading a paperback. When asked if I might buy one of the floats he asked, "What are floats?" I showed him one and began to tell him about them. Interrupting me and hardly glancing up from his book, he said, "Go ahead, help yourself." I am only sorry now I didn't scoop them all up and scurry away.

The Corning 6" Two-Piece Float
How did I obtain such a rarity made so many years ago? On a hunch I merely wrote them saying I was a collector and did they have by chance a few lying around in an old warehouse? In two weeks I received an unused, clear glass jewel with a letter stating they located a retired employee who had several in his fishing camp, and was happy to pass one on to a collector. Turning over every stone often pays off!

The 5" Purple Float Containing Water
By luck I recently obtained this treasure in Matamoros, Mexico's shabby Mercado. I took as a sample a 2 1/4" float with me, and when I showed it to the shopowners, one exclaimed, "Ole, uno ballo de cristal." Its peculiar frayed net secured at each end by wire first catches the eye, but the fact it contains 1/5 water sets it apart from millions of others, as such a float is indeed a mysterious rarity. Its deep purple color, believed by collectors it was used exclusively only by the Emperor of Japan in his private fishing waters, its tattered silkish net and its water content place it at once in a category all of its own. It is without question the ULTIMATE in floats-seldom found in even the most discriminating collections. I can set my own price. In five figures? In six?

Two American Made Ambers

A letter to a friend in Washington State referred me to a man in British Colombia. This individual had manufactured for many years, 6" football shaped cedar floats used in gill netting. He turned out as many as 200,000 a year in the '40's and '50's. Ultimately, economic reverses put him out of business, and he was liquidating several million cedar floats. Over those years, he had also accumulated many glass floats. For a few dollars, he sent me a bushel of cedar floats and the two ambers, one 6", the other 4 1/2". Both are unbubbled glass with short protruding necks-a characteristic only of American glass manufacturers. Opposite the necks they have flat bottoms and are of one piece, machine blown. Since all American floats are perfect spheres without blemishes, they all look alike, and it is this lack of individuality that makes them uninteresting.

During the passing of time there are advances and changes made to the former knowledge. We now have a number of older-some very old-round American floats to endeavor to add to our collections, as well as the wonderful East Coast Teardrops and the American Westcoast Collection. Also, Charles did not know of the color variations that occur on Northwestern Glass Company floats, the variations of markings, the numerous sizes, and the wonderful American Rolling Pins and the Davis Grooved Gill Net floats. Since Abernethy's writing we also know that there are examples of Made in England, Pat Pending FGC floats that were machine made, and have the raised neck seal. Who knows what the future will reveal?

The Two Unmatching 5" Ambers

A cannibal friend living in the Carib Indian Reservation on St. Vincent Island, W.I., found them cast up on his shores. For two years he held them hostage, holding out for money, clothing, films, radio batteries. The erruption of Mt. Soufriere volcano in '79, forced everyone in his village into emergency camps for 4 months. The floats survived the rain of boulders and hot ash that fell relentlessly on his village. At last my patience ran out, and I demanded he ship them to me or his blackmail would end. Surprisingly, they arrived by air a few weeks later-unceremoniously tossed into an old shoe box with no protective packing whatsoever. Over the two years hostage, I must have invested at least $27.48 in them.

The Jumbo 12-incher with Intricate Net

A friend I met in Grenada, W.I. works at their museum and attends school with a boy who's father managed the well-known waterfront rendezvous known as The Nutmeg Bar. When he took over the place he cleaned it from cellar to roof, finding several of these large floats in the basement. As a result of long, involved negotiations, I bought the Jumbo, and for almost two years my friend exhibited it at the Museum until I picked it up this past winter. It measures 12" in diameter and its manila hemp net is a work of art. The silver-dollar size trademark near the plug indicates it was made by the Hokuyo Glass Co. of Aomori, Japan. As such a valuable float could not be entrusted in the baggage compartment of the plane, I carried it onboard myself. The attendants strapped it into an empty seat. One recalcitrant attendant in Barbados met with threats of a lawsuit unless she gave it proper care in flight.

While waiting at each airport passenger gate-Grenada, Barbados, San Juan and Atlanta-hordes of tourists came up to admire this odd curiosity. They all said, "What is it?" and all had suggestions as to what I should do with it, ranging from cutting a hole in the top to make a "planter" to drilling 2 holes and inserting a hollow metal rod to wire it for a lamp. One said, "You'll probably trip over your front step when you get home and break it. Ha! Ha!"

The Green 9-incher

When Charley went to Hawaii last winter, he had strict instructions not to return to the Mainland without a float. On his last day there he luckily found the float hanging in front of a grass shack in a remote coastal village. The nice old Wahini even kindly provide him with a makeshift net to carry it over his back all the way home to Boston. It is machine made, unmarked and of a pleasing uniform shade of green.

The End

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

One of the Early Euro and Asian Glass Float Collectors

Charles Abernethy wrote:
"This very unusual grapefruit size, russet jem I espied in a far corner of the walled tropical garden patio of The Turk's Head Inn. It had to be mine at any cost! Knowing that all is fair in Collecting Floats and War, stealthily at midnight on a moonlight night I crept inch by inch over the sand to ensnare my prize. I placed my hand over its rough carunculated surface to scoop it into my net. It wouldn't budge. What was the matter? I tugged at it again-it moved sluggishly only an inch. With both hands I endeavored to lift it but in vain.

Then I realized what it was:


From the booklet: AMONG THE COCAINE SNIFFERS, ETC. 1984

by Charles Abernethy

About a week before reading that passage, Todd the Norsknailpounder, sent me an email of an expired Ebay auction that contained three glass float booklets written by Charles Abernethy.

The auction both amazed and frustrated me. I had never heard of the man or his writing, which was exciting and new knowledge; but I also had no chance to read the writing-the auction had already ended. How discouraging! The auction's photos of the books, floats, and a tantalizing bit of the author's writing titillated me. The detective in me sprang forth, and I was fast into checking everywhere I could for Abernethy auctions on Ebay. No luck.

Next-onto Google. No luck.

Then an idea hit me. Why not write the seller, and ask if there were other copies available? My email brought a swift reply. The previous owner of the auction trio did have another booklet, but had declined to offer it because there was some damage-a couple of the photos were stuck to the page next to them, and had been ruined when an attempt to unstick them pulled the photos apart. And there was the moral problem with the title which contained the words: "cocaine sniffers". Not being a cocaine sniffer or put off by the title, a few emails later, a deal had been struck, and the "Sniffers," was on its way to me. The above story from that booklet, was my introduction to a fellow-collector and his passion for floats.

While waiting for the book to arrive, I wrote Todd back, and found out that Ken Busse had clued him into the auction. An email to Ken brought some additional information about Abernethy. I continued to write other collectors to see what I could learn, and received one of the most considerate, and wonderful gestures of friendship-a gesture that I could not even imagine anyone extending to me. A wonderful friend and great float collector, wrote to tell me that Charles had sent him a copy of each booklet that he had written, on a yearly basis, as Christmas presents. My friend had to look for them, and was convinced they were buried in the garage inside a box. Once he found them, he would send them to me with the further consideration: "Copy them when you have time.' 'There's no rush.' 'I know that I can trust you."

I was humbled then, and remain so. A day or two later, my friend emailed me to say that he found the box right away, and that the writings were on their way to me. Oh Man!

Before the box came, the single booklet came from the Ebay seller, and as soon as I opened the package, I began to read the book. On the front page is a photo taken by Abernethy showing the cannon ball laying on top of the newly-raked sand. I can see why Charles mistook the ball for a float. What a great first read! Eagerly, I read on, knowing that a treasure was in my hands.

I want to share some of what is in these books with anyone interested. Charles was one of the greatly inspired float collectors that all of us see when we look into the mirror. Sadly, he passed away about 1992 or '93. His writing and passion live on. Charles Abernethy was one of those who were there in the beginning of modern float collecting, and one of the very first European glass float collectors.

He was truly an inspired collector, pre-Ebay auctions, who used novel methods to find and build his collection. He lived close to or in Pittsburgh, Pa., so he definitely needed to use his imagination to concoct ways to find floats. He did travel extensively, and haunted the Bahamas as well as the Turks and Caicos Islands looking for floats among the natives called "Belongers." His writing is filled with stories of his searching, and those he knew who tried to help him find floats. He had a wonderful wit, and his writing is fun to read.

I call his yearly writings "booklets," because they are mostly less than 20 pages long, and were written using a Brother, Model EM0100 typewriter, and were copied onto Mimeo Paper sold by Woolworth's. The photos were taken using a Canon 35mm., and were developed and pasted to each of his yearly works. His first glass float printing was titled:

FISHERMAN'S GLASS FLOATS, 1979, by: Charles Abernethy

He starts out by writing: "Though I live in western Pennsylvania, hundreds of miles from the seashore, my hobby is collecting fishermen's glass floats.

He continues by giving a very good description of floats, how they were used, and the conditions that caused them to brake free to land on distant shores, followed by a passage that I thought you might find interesting:

Alfred Russel Wallace, the famed naturalist, in his, The Malay Archipelago wrote in April 1858 that while en route by schooner to New Guinea, they were becalmed nearby in Campier's Straits for several days. Native canoes came out to their ship to sell palm leaf mats, shells, cocoa nuts and curios. Wallace wrote:

"My only purchases were a float carved to resemble a bird and a palm leaf box, for which articles I gave a copper ring and a yard of calico."

In generalizing on the customs of the Papuan natives of New Guinea Wallace remarked:

"They are great carvers and painters...The floats of their fishing lines, their tobacco boxes and other household articles are covered with carvings of tasteful and often elegant design."

Charles first findings are described:

"The fishing industry in the Atlantic, Mediterranean Sea and the Caribbean Sea is far less than in the Pacific, resulting in proportionately less floats showing up on their surrounding shores. By careful snooping they may be found occasionally in the waterfront shops bounded by those waters. Often you will go into a shop and see none, so you always ask the shop owner. "Oh, yes, I have a friend nearby who has some. I'll send out and have some brought over. Very few travellers ask for them."

To get just one float, even in a busy fishing village, you have to poke, ask, probe, cajole and even bribe. They are not in the shop windows just waiting for you.

The prettiest float I own, I found in a tottery harborfront shop on one of the remote Aegean Islands. Of grapefruit size it is light green in color and has more than its share of air bubbles. The amazing feature is that the bottom third surrounding the plug has a bumpy, pineappley finish, and when the late afternoon sun's rays shine through it, it gives a dazzling sunburst effect. I paid only 50 Grek (drachmas) for it.

I met a ship's officer on the Norwegian-American ship Pinsendam this fall, who proudly told me he had 100 gigantic 20" Japanese floats, each covered by beautiful, intricately woven nets. He said he was working on a ship that put in at Suva for a few days. On a nearby atoll he stopped at a fishing village, and bought them all for $1.00 each, loaded them on his ship, and brought them home. I said, "I'll visit you someday, and buy a dozen or so.' 'Where do you live?' 'Melbourne," he replies, reaching for the bottle of Dewars, and watching me out of the corner of his eye.

Some years ago while in the West Indies my interest in floats began to develop. I began to notice them in restaruants as decorations. In Grenada at the famous Nutmeg Bar, I saw both a light blue and a rose colored one. When I returned another time I was determined to buy them at any cost. Alas! The owner had sold the place. "What happened to the floats?' 'Where are they?" I inquired. "Oh, when he moved he took them with Johannesburg," came the reply.

On another West Indian island, St Vincent, I visited a tiny village on the northern shore. Stopping at a little roadside store for a refreshment after walking the beach, I inquired if there were by chance, any floats about. Sometime later, a towering half-naked native brought me two glistening, dripping wet, matching green ones. "They pretty. I wash them before I bring them to thee," He said in his best English voice.

Charles goes on to write:

Floats are best displayed hanging in your picture window to get the best natural sunlight, and can also be suspended from the ceiling or out on your patio. When placed on a table or shelves, they should be grouped in several sizes for contrast. A ruler or pencil placed nearby gives the viewer a true sense of their size.

At a West Indian guest house I saw four large floats with their nets placed in the corners on their dining room floor. The plugs had been cut out and a light bulb suspended in each. Though effective for subdued illumination in the evening, when I looked at them by day, I was saddened, as they were but damaged lifeless things.

Two 12" green floats with heavy nets were washed up on the beach near Galveston, Texas. They found their way to a Philadelphia antique shop where they remained dust covered in a corner for several years. When I got them home, washed them and looked carefully at them, I noticed each had a Japanese trademark. How could Japanese floats find their way into the Gulf of Mexico? Certainly not through the Panama Canal nor around the Horn. Several Japanese-owned fishing companies have subsidiaries in South America, I learned, and they were shipped to them for use in their business in the western hemisphere.

He finishes the first booklet with this story:

I have yet to discover my first float on the beach. Perhaps that thrill encourages me to keep on looking during my beachcombing seashore vacations.

When I do, I hope I have more luck than one man I heard about who suddenly came upon two large ones at the sametime. To get them back to his car he carried one and rolled the other along the beach with his foot. Somehow he slipped, and dropped the one onto the other. Both broke.

Reading the 1979 writing whetted my appetite for more of this man's recollections and history. I immediately identified a part of myself which also existed within him. Here was a man who wrote about floats. Here was a man to be inspired by.