Sunday, December 13, 2009
On The Trail Of The Whale & Lighthouse Floats
I wish I had a Doughnut float, or a Ship's Wheel, or someother outrageous glass float-for everytime I've been asked if the Whale and the Lighthouse floats really exist. It would be terrific to be able to at least see a photo of one or both. It isn't as if the search hasn't been going on for years now, or for lack of trying to finally know for certain that they exist. Like you, I want to have a chance to hold one or both in my hands one day. It just hasn't happened yet. Be confident. One day, one or both will appear.
Certainly, most all of us started the search for those floats due to the initial exposure to the markings, which are found in Stu Farnsworth and Alan Rammer's wonderful two editions of GLASS FISHING FLOATS OF THE WORLD. Both editions of those books show the markings, a bit differently drawn from one edition to the other, but both clearly showing a lighthouse beacon. An aside: if you've got the book, on the Acknowledgements page, you will see the name, Bruce Gidoll. Bruce will fit into this post a bit later.
"Tom, My goal is to find the Whale and the Lighthouse floats."
"I've been looking hard."
"Do you think they really exist?"
A bit of paraphrasing from David Neff emails. David lives in Sweden with his wife and family. He has found a few of the rarest Euros known, but his goal is to find that pair. Is there a float collector anywhere, who does not share that desire?
Just a few weeks ago, a friend-who with tongue-in-cheek, labels himself, "Float Collector Extraordinare," and who in reality-is one, asked me if there was any proof of their existence. I sent him a couple of the photos above, which show the Spanish-made metal Lighthouse marked floats, together with the promise that I would write a post about what proof I do have.
My own search for photos of those floats started by asking collectors who have been around since the 1960's, and who knew collectors from earlier years, if they could turn me onto someone who has the floats in their collection. I have not been able to find anyone who can either contact or put me in contact with, someone who has either of those embossings on glass floats.
Then I received a tantalizing email from Stu Farnsworth. And thanks to Stu, I am now happily communicating with the writer of the following email: William Jessop. Bill is an incredible researcher, as well as a float collector.
It was important to first, introduce myself, and secondly, ask for permission from Bill to use the email story. An email was sent to him one Sunday. Not only did Bill give me permission, he also sent a wonderfully articulate and fun-to-read email. He has since sent two terrific float-research emails which will be presented in future posts. Bill has a lot to say, and what he says will stimulate all collectors who are interested in floats and glass making.
Here is the email from Stu, then Bill:
Here is an article I thought you would enjoy. I just dug it up while going through emails for deletion. Anyway, this had your name written all over it.
From: Bill Jessop
Subject: FLOAT STORIES
Date: Thursday, December 26, 2002, 1:35 PM
Stu, as promised, here is a very interesting exerpt ("...") from my
correspondence with a chap in the Orkney Islands that I bought a float
from...it certainly provides insight & color re: the use of the floats &
why there aren't many left:
" There is no clear indication of where this 'brand' of float was
manufactured. UK and Norway seem to have been the biggest manufacturers of
these and yes, they were produced as trawl floats as you mentioned. Very
difficult to say where they would actually have been used. They were
beachcombed on the small islands here years back, and were commonly found up
to about 10 years ago. Now they are never seen. The local fisherman used to
send the children out looking for them, and they were then used as single
ended floats on the inshore Lobster Creels. Absolutely amazing that they
survived this, as the inshore Lobster fishery is just that-about 15 yards off
the rocks on the shoreline!! The storms and swells we get here put "paid," to
many of them.
They have washed up here for decades. The Orkney Isles being right at the
north of Britain, we catch the Gulf Stream and also the North Sea and
Atlantic meet here, so the tides are severe. 12 knots at times in certain
places. Also, with the different directions of the North Sea flow, all sorts
of items wash up on our shores, even coconuts and dead turtles from the
Regarding age, most of these tend to be from around 70 or 80 years ago, I
think, with the free blown ones being a bit older. Many old timers here
who used to set creels have a few still lyng around in their sheds, and they
come up for sale from time to time. We get the full range of marks on the
floats including some of the very rare ones like the 3 fishes, lighthouse
and whale. Also the colours tend to vary widely, green being the most common,
clear, amber, aqua and cranberry being found as well.
There would have been lots more of these but sadly, young boys finding these
on the beach in years past, took great delight in taking them to the cliff
tops and hurling them over to see them 'bomb' on the rocks below.
Thinking back, I can remember lads going up there with wheelbarrows full of them that
they had found that day."
While reading the email, my first reaction was, *@#&!! How many more stories am I going to have to endure of floats destroyed by being used as targets; broken to get the little balls inside for grinding into marbles; thrown at the rocks to hear them explode, bombed to smitereens during WWI and WWII, or buried in tiffs or trash dumps at the bottom of cliffs? Then I realized that I was reading about someone actually saying that they had seen the Whale and the Lighthouse marked glass floats. Immediately, an email was sent to Stu thanking him for thinking of me, and to tell him how exciting it was to read that email. It is a story which is now continuing to be passed around.
Unlike the experiment, which starts by telling a story to the first person in a line of people, and continues... by having each person retell the story to the person behind them, until the last person in line is told the story, and which always reveals changes in the story from the first telling to the last-this story is as unchanged as the day the email was first written.
Is this a fable from the man in the Orkney Islands written to impress Bill, or is it a factual history being passed on?
Early this year, I received a box from a float collecting pal, Richard Carlson. In the box were two differently-sized metal floats, with the Lighthouse marking on them, as well as numbers and the name, La Coruna. What a great gift, and how "enlightening" it was to see the mark resembling the drawing found in Stu and Alan's book.
On a hunch, I Googled, "La Coruna," and was surprised to find quite a bit of information. La Coruna is the second largest city in Galicia in northwestern Spain. It is, and has been a very busy seaport and center of trade, because it faces the Atlantic Ocean and major trading countries in Europe.
The Romans conquered Galicia in the 2nd century BC. Prior to being named La Coruna, the town was named Brigantium. The Romans used the port for trade with England, France and Portugal.
The population at that time was small, and most of its inhabitants made their living from fishing. Present day, Marina Avenue is known as the area where the original fishermens' houses existed.
The lighthouse drawn in Stu and Alan's book, and also embossed onto the metal floats may be La Coruna Lighthouse, which was originally called the "Tower of Hercules." Built by the Romans more than 1900 years ago, and considered to be the oldest existing lighthouse in the world. It was originally kept lit by constantly-tended wood fires.
In the 1800's, a glass business was established in the city, possibly called, glass factory La Corunesa? I have not been able to conclusively find the name of the original glassworks yet. Close by, Almeria, is well known for its glass industry, and La Coruna is noted for the beautiful glassed-in porch fronts (seen in the photo above showing La Coruna's fishing boats) on many of the city's houses and buildings.
Glass was very important in the area of the Tower of Hercules. My guess is that the Lighthouse mark pays tribute to La Coruna and the Light, and may also be a testament to the strength of it's protectors during the many sieges that occurred throughout history. The light kept shining no matter who attacked the city, and to mariners, besieged by storms, and fog, the shining lights point the way to safety and security.
That was an interesting time spent researching, and I would like to ask, if you have the time, Google La Coruna, to see what you find. Perhaps additional information can be added to this post via the comment section below the post?
During one of our frequent and always enjoyable phone conversations, my friend Bruce Gidoll, who was acknowledged for his contributions to Stu and Alan's book, gave me a piece of his float history. I was on the hunt for someone who had either or both of the floats, and thought to ask Bruce about what he might know. Bruce said that he had actually seen both of those floats in one man's collection! I was incredulous, and as we talked, thought about writing this post, and tried hard to remember all that he told me.
Time passed. The Carribean story was written. This post had been swirling around my head. An email was sent to Bruce promising a phone conversation, together with the asking of a favor. The favor: would Bruce think hard about his sighting of the floats, and search his memory for every fact that came to mind? Bruce came through with the following story:
This story begins in the 1990's, when Bruce and his wonderful wife Lupe, lived by the seaside in Oregon. Much of Bruce's early float collection was established either through trades or by finding floats in antique stores.
While on vacation in West Yarmouth, Cape Cod, Bruce was drawn to one of Yarmouth's four great antiques shops. The window display of one shop featured a selection of glass floats. He opening the door to enter, and was surprised by something banging on the inside of the door. A red basketball-sized Made in Czechoslovakia float, which hung on the inside of the door, and acted to alert the shopkeeper like a doorbell, was responsible for the banging . Bruce purchased that float. It is the only basketball-sized red Czech float that either of us has heard of.
Also found in that shop were four American Teardrops, and a selection of two sizes of American-made Neversinks. As Bruce began to look through the floats, he realized that another man, perhaps in his 40's, was also looking through the floats.
Naturally, the two collectors struck up a conversation. Enjoying their conversation, Bruce took the man up on his invitation to follow him home to see his collection. The man lived in the exclusive community of Chatham, which is west of Cape Cod.
Bruce said that he believed that the time of this trip was prior to 1997, and that it was definitely before the year 2000, because he and Lupe were still living in Oregon, and had not begun the process of selling their home, and moving to the East Coast.
He followed the man to his home. At that time, some of the West Coast Asian float collectors were collecting Euros as well. Bruce is now a collector of rare colored floats, and could care less about maker's markings, but at that time, he did collect Euros, and specifically marked floats. That trait is still the norm for Euro collectors, although shapes, other than the round ball, are also quite important too, just as they are to the Asian float collectors. I digress...
While looking at the man's floats, Bruce spotted both the Whale and the Lighthouse embossed floats. Never having seen those floats before, the queston was asked,
"Where did you get them?"
The man said that they were given to him by his father. That was the extent of the history he knew about the pair. Another question,
"Are they for sale?"
The man would not part with his legacy.
I asked Bruce for some specifics on the floats, and this is what he said. They were both standard 5-inch Euros. They both looked old, but were in good shape with some use abrasion. He believed that the Whale float was pale green glass, and that the Lighthouse was of colorless glass. The marks were both embossed on the side of the floats, and both were good sized embossings-clearly seen.
The markings were drawn from memory, and sent to Stu and Alan prior to the 1st. edition of their book. Two or three years later, Bruce went back to Chatham to visit the man, but he had moved, and Bruce was unable to find out where he had moved to.
Is this the end of Bruce's story, or is it possible that the owner, or another person reading this post, will add to it? Do you still doubt that these floats exist? Was the Lighthouse float, Spanish-made? Does the Whale float symbolize the Whale trade that brought so many Portugese fishermen to the Northeast Coast, or is it a mark that pays tribute to those magnificent mammels?
If you doubt their existence, kindly keep in mind some of the floats which appeared during the last year. A number of never-before-seen floats have come to the surface. What collector had ever seen an example of the beautifully shaped and colored Aalesund floats before Per Einar found them while on expedition last spring?
On Roger and Maria's glassfloat website, there is a just posted photo of an aqua M (Moss Glasverks) embossed grooved float. The photo may confirm the conversation that Per and I had early last summer. Feeling that the glass color of the grooved European floats did not conform to Flesland's normal colors, and there is also the lack of a Flesland maker's marking on the floats, we agreed that Moss glassverks could have been the maker.
There is a photo on Vebjorn's site of a wonderful float that is knobbed on one end, round on the other. This float resembles the plum bob shaped float on the patent drawing of the S.H. Davis & Co. gill net.
And who can forget the first photos of the partial Ship's Wheel float, then later, the actual finding of a whole Ship's Wheel, followed by the Ebay auction of another that was found in France?
Who knows what is in our float collecting future? I believe Bruce's story, and feel confident that one day, we will all see the first photos of those two floats.
Merry Christmas, and best wishes to everyone, for a healthy, happy and prosperous New Year, and lots of glassfloat happenings!
P.S. It's Sunday evening, and I've just received an email from Richard Carlson. Rich is the pal who gave me the pair of metal Lighthouse floats. I would like to share Richard's observations on the Lighthouse and Whale floats:
After reading your latest post on the Lighthouse and Whale, I was wondering if the small metal float I sent you, says Hercules on it? Mine does, so it must be the Tower of Hercules.
Also, as I'm sure you've noticed, both Lighthouses-metal and glass, have 3 rays coming from the light. Could be coincidence, but when you think about things, a Levis logo has looked the same since 1855 or something like that. I would wager that La Corina is the center of glass as well as metal lighthouse production.
If Bruce says the Whale is clear glass, then I would vote for France for two reasons. From the design standpoint, an area might use shared technique. The star and the ship's wheel are old nautical symbols as is the whale. Stars and the Ship's Wheel have come from France, and once using pictures as marks rather than letters, maybe a glass house continues to use pictures on their products? Who knows? There could be clear (and sun turned) floats with fish, sails, ropes, chains etc.
The second reason is the color of the glass itself. So many floats are showing up
in France that are clear or sun turned clear. LVs, Stars, that LI in a Wreath, UVE, JMS, I'm sure I'm forgetting some. Ahhhh maybe there's a sun turned Whale out there?
All the best,
Thanks Rich for sharing your thoughts and inferences.
P.S.S. Sunday, Jan.3,2010, During our telephone conversation yesterday afternoon, Bruce told me that I had a fact wrong. The shop that he found the Red Czech, the Teardrops and the pair of Neversink floats in, was not the shop in which he met the owner of Whale and the Lighthouse floats. The shop where the floats were purchased was located in Chatham where Bruce's sighting took place. Those floats were found at a later time. So in the desire to be as accurate as possible, I wanted the readers to know the facts.