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


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