Thursday, February 26, 2009

How Does It Make You Feel?

During the last year I became acquainted with a great glass float collecting Pal named Richard. If the reader has read the 2nd. post about the SN floats, "New Scotland," you will find Richard first mentioned there.
His collection of European glass floats is one of the world's best. In the collection is the incredible seal and portion of the float's body shown above. This float was found while Richard was on vacation, and is old-most likely made between WWI and WWII. I believe that this float is either Portugese, French or Spanish-made.

As the reader can see, the float was once without color or was clear glass, but over time, the manganese added to cancel the effects of the iron oxide in the sand used for the glass mixture, coupled with the chemical reaction to the sun's ultrviolet rays, has turned the glass violet.

Can't you just imagine the mixture of elation at first seeing this float's seal and body piece sticking out of the sand, and the chagrin at finding that the rest of the float was missing? Yet, in the end, Richard and all of us know that he has found one of the rarest floats in the world, whole or not! This float is as important to Euro collectors, as the first photos of the Whale and the Lighthouse cachets will be.

Unlike the missing photos of the above floats, Richard's photos are the real deal, and seen by all of us for the first time.

Thank you Richard for generously sharing your float with everyone. This mark is spectacular, and is a holy grail for all who collect floats.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Sat. 9/30/06
Hi Tom,
Some valuable info:

I have been talking with grand daughter to Mr. Oresten today, and she told me that Stranne & Oresten Net Making Company was established in the year 1935, in Goteborg (Sweden). They ordered floats from Svenska Glasbruk with their Stranne & Oresten mark on the seal button.

The last years were not good years, and Stranne & Oresten did not produce a lot of floats, and ordered floats without their maker's mark from an unknown east-state glass company. Stranne & Oresten Net Making Company closed in the year 1970.

That was a very interesting email, and historical insight. In the email we have evidence of a company name used as a cachet on a seal button. We learn Stranne & Oresten were the owners of a net making company located in Sweden. And we learn that they had at least three different markings (possibly one float ordered without a marking) on their floats.

Trying to research Svenska Glasbruk, I found numerous websites with the words, "Svenska Glasbruk," but could find no information about the company. It finally occurred to me that "Svenska," might mean "Sweden." Sure enough! When I went to a translation service, the words "Svenska Glasbruk," mean Swedish Glasswork.

Prior to a recent Ebay auction posted by "Swedie," in Sweden, the photo showing the float with the marking, Stranne & Orestan, was unknown. The Stranne Orestan surrounding the "Compass," mark is a well-known cachet. Could it be that the plain "Compass," mark is actually the third float marking from the Stranne & Orestan Net Making Company? Is it the mark that Pereinar123 writes about having been made without the company's mark?

Tonight I am filled with questions, and wonder-where did I put my notes from the night spent pouring over the Glass Lexicon? There are two important pieces of information that I found there. Those notes are around here somewhere!

Thank you David for allowing me to use your photo of the rare Stranne & Orestan float cachet.
Thanks once again to Ken Busse for allowing me to use his photo of the Stranne Orestan Compass float cachet.
The photo of the Compass mark belongs to the author.

A Czech/German Question To Ponder

On one of Pereinar123's last great Norwegian float history expeditions, Per sent me a photo of a Made in Germany float that he had found. Never having seen that German marking before, I was immediately struck by the similarity to the Made in Czechoslovakia float construction, location of the mark and the lettering.

The Czech Republic has a past history of occupation by Germany, and a sharing of glassmaking technology, and craftsmanship.

For your consideration, I wish to post the two photos above. Kindly compare the two floats and their cachets.

In my mind, I have a hard time believing that the Made in Czechoslovakia floats were made in Germany, although my son-in-law, a glass artist and glass art teacher, assures me that would have been possible. If the reader sees the same similarities that I do, perhaps it would also be worthy to think that the same engraver designed both cachets? In the world of glass, employees were constantly changing places of employment due to the short-lived nature of glass houses.

The photo of the Made in Germany float was provided by Ken Busse. Thank you Ken for permission to use your wonderful photo for the blog.
The photo of the green Czech is the author's.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


What is the lure of collecting the Made In Czechoslovakia glass fishing float? For a number of years I have been following Ebay glass fishing float auctions. During those years there have been a good number of Czech floats up for auction. The auctions appear perhaps once every two months. They are not found on Ebay on a regular basis, the way so many Japanese Hokuyo floats, common rolling pins, or Northwestern Glass Co. floats are. When one of these floats does appear, it attracts immediate attention i.e. bids.

It does not matter what color the float is either. The more common green floats will generally attract the same number of bids as the less common amber, blue or reds. The final price will not be as high for a green, but the desire to add one to a collection generally attracts just as many bidders.

My first float with the cachet, “Made in Czechoslovakia,” was found on an early October Saturday afternoon 1987, at the “Batsto Glass and Bottle Show.” The show is held annually, always in early fall prior to the “Batsto Country Living Faire.” As a child in elementary school, we had taken a class trip to the Batsto village, but I had not been back there since.

My wife Nancy and our two children came along with me on that beautiful sunny day, with no particular goal in mind, other then to see what kind of glass and bottles might be for sale, and to spend time together. Later, we split up for a few minutes. The family was inside the village store looking at toys, etc., and I was outside, under the porch roof that surrounded the village store looking at all of the vendors’ bottle displays. Batsto dates to the Revolutionary War Era, and the store had been there for a long time.

At the end of the back-of-the-store portion of the porch, on the last table under the roof, I saw a fairly large light brown float among the many bottles of a seller who had a Santa Claus type of white beard. Picking it up, and looking for a cachet, I saw the words: “Made in Czechoslovakia,” embossed onto the top of the float. The seal button had only a small chip off the edge, and the float’s glass was in wonderful shape, with little-to-no damage. It was a really nice float, and even though I had never seen a float like that one before, I knew that in my hand was a European glass fishing float, with a price tag of $10.00. Fortunately, I had the extra money that was for special occasions just like this one. You know how it is, when you are young, raising a family and every penny counts. But I had the extra ten bucks, and happily paid the seller without trying to bargain. That float held a special place in my small collection of European glass floats, and as the years passed, I would attend the yearly Batsto Glass and Bottle Show without fail.

A number of years passed. The children matured, and my float collection slowly grew. Our daughter began to attend college. Nancy had finished college, and while pursuing her degree had relied on using the college computers at the campus library. We knew that our daughter, and now, Nancy needed a computer in the home, so we bought one for our daughter’s birthday. The family used it, but I did not.

Four years later, Our daughter earned her BA, then enrolled in Grad School, and left home. Our son had graduated high school, and chose to join the Coast Guard. After his discharge, he came home, and the time came for that first computer to be replaced to keep up with the new technology, so we went out and bought a new one, got it home, and quickly had high speed internet installed. I finally became curious enough to want to learn to use a computer, and after a short tutorial from Nancy and our son, sat down one night to try and see what I could do.

Having been introduced to the search engine, Google, I went there first, and began to webcomb for glass floats. The first few tries of typing in search phrases for glass floats, produced nothing really good, until I typed in the search phrase: “antique glass fishing floats." A website appeared that led me to Norwegian Egg floats. Never having seen those before, I was amazed and excited by the site. The photos of the egg floats with and without nets were wonderful, but there was only limited information. Had I known about saving to favorites, that site would have been saved. Never been able to find that site again. But I did find Ebay auctions, after typing in the search engine, “antique Japanese glass balls.” The world of floats truly was before my eyes-all kinds of floats, colors, shapes and sizes: rolling pins, large tuna floats, fakes and round 3, 4 and 5 inchers too.

Once the auctions were found, every opportunity would find me in front of the computer looking at the auctions, and searching for other float sites. What an exciting and fantastic find those sites and auctions were and are! A new and electrifying float passion had entered my life.

One Sunday a red Czech float appeared on the auctions. Man! It was beautiful! My high bid of $25.00, never touched the winning bid of $150.00. That seemed like a lot of money for one float, and truly took me by surprise. What a neophyte, but you’ve got to start somewhere.

Time passed, when another auction for a Czech float came up-a cobalt blue float. By then I had found out about, and purchased the wonderful book, GLASS FISHING FLOATS OF THE WORLD, by Stu Farnsworth and Alan Rammer. That book introduced me ( and many other collectors and sellers) to the many markings to be found on the European glass fishing floats.
Having studied that book over and over again, the knowledge of the various sizes and colors of the “Made in Czechoslovakia,” floats that were possible to collect was part of my collector’s psyche.

Seeing the value of a blue Czech in that book, I knew my best bid would be too low to win it, but still, I watched the auction closely. It sold for $125.00-a bit under the book’s value.

During the next year, I saw a handful of Czech float auctions, and one of them was for a float like the one that I had found at Batsto. It too sold for over $100.00, and I felt pretty good about having a valuable float in my small collection. The floats were mostly reds or blues, and the price to win an auction, remained fairly constant: $125.00 or slightly more for a blue, and $150.00 or so for a red.

Still not wanting to spend that kind of money for one of those, I waited, and hoped that one would appear when I did have extra money to seriously try to win. Then one day, a 5" green “Made in Czechoslovakia,” float appeared. I had a few bucks, and tried hard to win it, and did.

At last! Excitedly, I waited for the box to be delivered. One week after the auction ended it arrived. What a beautiful float-a rich shade of green, and in perfect shape. Now I had two of them.

Perhaps another year passed, and a couple more reds, and another blue were auctioned, and the price rose a bit. The blues were selling for $150.00, and the reds for $170-175.00. Then a 2- float Czech auction for a golden yellow/amber 5" and a different shade of amber/green 5" float appeared. I knew that to win that auction would cost me. It was summer, and the spring sales had been good, so there was some money to invest in floats. Feeling the float excitement, bidding on the float, being overbid and then waiting until the auction’s end, I calculated on my biggest and final bid.

Finally! The day of the auction’s mid-afternoon ending, and I could be there in front of the computer, as the final seconds ticked away. My earlier bid still was the highest, but I knew from past experience that there was one collector who bid on and won almost all of the previous Czech auctions. The guy was unbeatable, but I was going to give it my best, and up to that time in the auction, he had not bid.

Perhaps he would be away on summer vacation, without access to a computer, and not know that this wonderful pair of floats was available? Hoping that would be the case, I still had one final bid reserved for the end of the auction.

Sitting in front of the computer, looking at the auction, and refreshing for the last 10 minutes, the countdown of the last minute started. The amount of my planned final bid, crept up another $10.00, then another $5.00, and as the count down reached 20 seconds, I put another $7.50 on top of that, and made my last bid. The auction’s end came up on the screen with the wonderful news, “You Won!” When I looked at the final winning bid, there was that guy’s handle, and his final bid was just $2.00 less than mine. Another lesson learned. He had not bid until the last 10 or so seconds-a sneak attack.

The top shelf of my display case, now had four Czech floats. There was more space available on the shelf-space that was meant to have a red and a blue one. Continuing to go to the Batsto bottle show, as well as other bottle shows, auctions and the occasional yard sale yielded little until at a mid-February auction preview, I found a pair of large dark green Czechs on one of the auction tables. These were the largest examples of “Made in Czechoslovakia,” floats that I had ever seen. About eight inches in diameter, one in perfect shape, the other had just a slight chip off the seal button.

The preview was on a Sunday afternoon, and the auction was the next day. According to the auction’s timetable, that pair of floats would be auctioned at approximately 12:30 to 1:00 P.M. I arrived at noon, and could see that it would be a good hour or more before they auctioned the goods on the table with the floats.

With bidding number in hand, I found a spot to stand among the crowd and waited.... There were so many small pieces on the table before the floats, that it seemed as if it would be at least two hours before they would get to “my auction.” Then they finished, and would soon get to the floats. Nervously I checked my numbered bidding card to make certain that when I bid, the number would be pointed toward the auctioneer. Thoughts of how much I was willing to bid, and would my luck be good, helped to pass the time. One of the auctioneer’s helpers picked up both floats. They were auctioned as a pair.

“Who’ll start the auction at $150.00 for this pair of net balls? $110.00? $80.00? $50.00? $25.00?” My hand shot up, and the auctioneer saw me. “I’ve got $25.00,” another hand shot up, now it was $30.00. I bid again at $35.00, and another person bid them to $40.00. Then the second bidder raised to $45.00. My hand went up at $50.00, and that was the final bid. Wow! The helper put the pair into my hands. People looked at me, and I felt great.

Once home, Nancy eagerly asked me if I had won. She’s great! Later, one of them was placed on the shelf with the other Czechs, and still there was room for the red and blue one-if I could just find them somewhere to purchase, or win them on the Ebay auctions.

A few years passed. I bid on a number of auctions for either a red or blue, once on an auction for both colors, and always came up short, having been overbid at the last second. I tried to trade for them with another collector or two, only to find that no one wanted to part with their’s. I scouted out the auctions and local bottle shows as well as a few antique shops for them, and searched the web. No luck.

The Ebay auction winning prices for both examples continued upward. By 2008, a blue Czech would cost $200.00 or more, and the reds were going for $250.00 to over $300.00. Would I ever fill that spot on my shelf with either color?

July, 2008, and an auction for a blue Czech appeared on Ebay. I had that feeling of excitement, and knowing that I was going to try to win. On the day of the auction’s end, with bidding strategy in place, the last minute counted down. The current price was about $110.00. Curious to know where the current leader was money-wise, I bid again, and was leading. With about 20 seconds to go I put my final bid down, refreshed and saw the words, “You won!” It was hard to believe, but finally a blue one was coming to my collection, at a great price.

Just two weeks later, another “Made in Czechoslovakia,” float appeared on Ebay-a red one. Counting my shekels, I knew that there was enough to bid for that float. Once again an auction for a red Czech was counting down, and on the last day, I made certain to be there for the auction’s ending.

The bidding was a bit more spirited for that float compared to the blue, and at the last minute, the high bid was $150.00. Still somewhat low. So much can happen in the last 10 seconds, and it did. I had decided what my final bid would be, and gave that figure a shot at winning. Those wonderful words appeared again upon refreshing, and my last bid was exactly what the winning price ended on. Fifty cents less, and I would have lost.

After all of those years of searching, being overbid and waiting, the colored pair would finally be joining the collection, and occupying the spot at the front of the top shelf. Both floats coming within two weeks of one another was wonderfully good fortune.

This story continues for just a bit longer. This post to the blog would not be complete without some history too.

A few collectors have asked me what I thought about the Czech floats. Are they real fishing floats or are they just contemporaries? From what I have seen, they are both. Beautifully made in vibrant colors of sufficient weight to be used for net fishing, in molds that were expertly built with the letters perfectly engraved, examples of both used and pristine floats are found on the Ebay auctions, and for those lucky enough to encounter them at yard sales, antique stores, auctions and estate sales.

Mostly, the floats are in pristine and unused shape. The Czech floats that I have seen, which were used for gill-net fishing, were offered by two collectors who found them in Norwegian boat houses among fishing gear, and one collector from Sweden, and a few from Maine, where the floats were used to mark Lobster traps. The colors that I have seen were: green; amber/green; dark amber/green; brown/amber; cherry red; dark blood red; orange and bright blue.

One interesting pattern noticed, is that almost all of the “Made In Czechoslovakia,” Ebay float auctions have originated from the U.S. Northeastern States. The southern boundary has been Maryland. When Ebay auctions for those floats have come from other states in the U.S., after emailing and questioning, the sellers have always told me that they either found them in, or the floats were previously purchased in a Northeast Coast State.

My guess is that the majority of these floats were made as “Contemporary” floats. The history states that the Contemporary floats were mostly made from the late 1950's to early ‘60's, for the tourist and decorating trade. From what I have read a few times, there was a maritime-decorating craze during those years

The sizes that I am acquainted with are: 5" height, 16" diameter; 6.5" height, 22.25"diameter and 7.5" height, 25.5" diameter. The lettering on the embossing or cachet, can be found in different patterns. Mostly found in a circular form, there are also examples of a straight line embossing, as seen in the photos above.

Trying to find out who the maker of these floats was, has taken me to many search avenues. Combing the web produced nothing other than art glass sites showing the same or a similar cachet, but no information as to who the maker was. Thanks to my son-in-law Chad, who is a glass artist, I have been acquainted with many very knowledgeable glass artists, who’s contacts are far-ranging. No luck. One of those artists, Frantisek Janak, is also the headmaster of the oldest glass school in the Czech Republic. Surely, contacting him would get the answer I was looking for?

I was introduced to this fine man on a trip from Seattle, Washington to Portland, Oregon. Chad, Frantisek and I were together in a truck driving south, delivering glass cutting and polishing equipment for an upcoming seminar about glass techniques that they were giving. After conversations about politics, governments, artists’ problems with art and lecturing, comparisons of women and beer, etc., I introduced my passion for glass fishing floats. Franticek was very interested, but truthfully told me that he had no knowledge of them. He was interested though, and I had his ear.

Broaching the subject of the wonderful floats that were made in his country, I enquired if he might be able to help me locate the maker. In his jovial and hearty way, he said, “Yes!” Giving me his email address, he told me to send him some photos, and he would find out who the maker was. Nirvana!

After the lecture was over, and Franticek returned to the Czech Republic, I sent him an email with photos of the floats, and their cachets. Then I waited. Perhaps two to three weeks passed, before there was an email from him. He had searched, he had asked others to search, and yet nothing could be found. He did say that he would keep looking, and was certain that the mystery could be solved. Subsequent emails over the course of the next couple of years came up empty.

December 2007, Nancy and I took a Christmas trip to be with Chad, our daughter and grandson in Prague, Czech Republic. What an opportunity! What an experience! Chad had received a Fulbright Scholarship to study glass engraving and polishing techniques in the Czech Republic, and the family would be there for 10 months. Nancy and I wanted to be with them for the holidays, as well as to experience one of the chances of a lifetime.

What a great trip that was! The historic atmosphere in Prague, the musical and visual cacophony of many people from all over the world, who spoke in so many languages as they passed-filled the senses, and the wonderful architecture spanning many centuries and many styles, filled the eyes and happily-strained the neck as Nancy and I looked up, across, side-to-side, ahead and behind. Both of our cameras were in constant use.

After three days in Prague, we took a bus trip to Kamenicky Senov, where our family lived, and where Chad pursued his studies. On the way, Chad told me that he had some books borrowed from the school, that might have some information that I was seeking about float makers. I couldn’t wait to see them.

We were only going to be in Kamenicky Senov for two days sandwiched between the bus trips out of and back to Prague. There were outings planned: working glass factories as well as defunct glass houses to visit; trips into a neighboring town to meet friends who lived there and a wonderful dinner planned in another town with Chad’s friends. When would I get the time to study those books?

On our last night there, I asked Chad about the books, and he promptly put three books in front of me. Two had nothing that I was looking for in them, but one: The Glasmarken Lexikon, was not only a huge book, but also packed with glass makers markings, their meanings and sources. I spent hours during that last night while everyone slept, pouring through that book.

All of us who search for float history know how difficult it is to find anything significant. That night with that book was no exception. I could find very little showing glass float cachets that I was familiar with, but did find many drawings and three pages of references to the “Made In Czechoslovakia,” cachet. What great excitement! After all of the time spent researching, I had found the maker credited with the mark. Every reference showing the mark was credited to: UNBEKANNTE MANUFAKTUREN. At last, the maker had been found, and possibly, no other float collector knew what I knew. Another chapter for my book. I couldn’t wait to get home to translate the German, and to research the company.

Any serious glass collector who is reading this, has to know that many times the thought of this new knowledge, and my desire to get back on my computer, entered into my thoughts during the flight home. The first day back, at the first opportunity, found me sitting in front of the computer with the goal being to translate, “UNBEKANNTE MANUFAKTUREN," and the information that was written next to the company name.

Using “Babel Fish Translation Services,” I excitedly typed in the German phrase, hit the translation cue for German to English, and waited for the box to be filled. There it was! The translation: “Unknown Manufacturer.” Three pages of ascribing the cachet to this company, in that incredible book, only to find that it meant close to nothing. My coup was dashed!

The search goes on, and one day maybe, just maybe, one or more of the glass companies who used the "Made In Czechoslovakia ," cachet will appear.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Patent No. 186,232

As is my custom every morning when I wake up, the computer is turned on, I grab a glass of orange juice to drink, then sit down to see what new has arrived on the auctions, and in my emails. It's great to have friends from different parts of the world, who's clocks are advanced in time when compared to mine, or who live on the West Coast of the U.S. There is always a good chance of finding emails sent while I was sleeping. It's all part of the wonderful excitement that is in my life because of glass floats.

This morning there was a great surprise! Pereinar123, got down and did some excellent research concerning the S.H. Davis Gill Net Floats, and found the patent application to the United States Patent Office. Not only did he find the application, but also the drawing of the gill net with attached float. Thanks to Per, all who read this blog, can now see the wonderful historical information

Thanks Per!




Specification forming part of Letters Patent No. 186,232, dated January 16, 1877; application filed December 19, 1876.

To all whom it may concern:
Be it known that we, DAVID W. DAVIS and SAMUEL H. DAVIS of DETROIT, in the county of Wayne, in the State of Michigan, have made certain Improvements in Gill-Nets for catching fish in deep water, of which the following is the specification:
The invention consists in a novel float that holds the net in an upright or perpendicular position in the water after the sinker rests upon and holds the bottom line upon the ground under the water, as will be full here-inafter described.
In the drawings, Figure 1 represents a side view of a gill-net in position in deep water, having the sinkers and floats attached, and Fig. 2 is an enlarged view of the same.
A represents the net-work of an ordinary gill-net; A', the sinker or bottom line; A", the float or upper line; B, the sinker, which is of any heavy metal, in the form of a ring. It is attached to the bottom line by strong cords; as seen at b, or by any other secure means. C is the float, made of glass, is hollow, perfectly water-tight, and made as light as is consistent with strength necessary to prevent breaking in the ordinary way of handling the net. This float, being of glass, and transparent, is not seen by the fish when submerged in water, as it assumes the same color as the surrounding water, it being light in material, has great sustaining power when submerged in water, and is a great improvement over either light wood or cork for such purpose, as either wood or cork become water-soaked when submerged to the depth of two or three hundred feet in water, and after a little while is almost as heavy as the surrounding water, and no matter how light-colored they may be when first used, they soon change to a dark color, and will consequently be seen by the fish, who will invariably avoid them or near proximity to them, while the glass float does not change its color perceptibly, or become heavier by any length of time in the water, as it is impervious thereto.
The form of the glass float may be spherical, elliptical, coniform, or other convenient form; but we prefer the shape represented, with a button or ball, c, and neck c', by which the float is securely attached to the float-line A" by cord or other suitable device passing around the neck c' of the float, and around the float-line A". The glass float C, when constructed and attached to the upper or float line A", has just floating power enough to hold the net A in a perpendicular position, while the sinkers are heavy enough to prevent the floats from raising them and the net from the bottom, where the sinkers rest; and when the net is in such position, it and the floats remain in a stationary condition, as they are so far submerged below the surface of the water that they are not affected by wind or swell upon the surface, and are not moved except when taken up to remove the fish that may be caught in the meshes of the net.
Having thus described our invention, what we claim is-
The glass floats C, in combination with a gill-net, A, arranged to operated as and for the purposes substantially as described.


Ed. E. Kane,
Henry F. Dusing.

Now we know that the original patent was for an improvement in gill-nets, specifically a novel float made of glass. The patent was for a glass float, and as stated in the patent application, that float could take a number of shapes. Per tells us that the grooved Norwegian Egg float did not occur until the 20th. Century. (See Per's comments on the previous post)

Sadly, I have to tell the reader that I do not have one of the S.H. Davis floats to look at and hold, and have never seen one, except in a photo. After making the guess that the Davis float was a copy of the Norwegian Egg, then looking, and looking again at the photos of the Davis Gill Net float, it struck me that the Davis float appeared in the photos to be rounder, and looked thicker in body than the Norwegian Egg. It's shape reminds me of a walnut. Until the day comes when I or one of the readers can actually compare them for us, that is speculation on my part.

Another guess...Is that why the float is stamped with just Samuel Davis' initials? Did he actually perfect the final float shape that the Davis' attached to their gill nets, and so, was credited with the float's invention?

When looking at the photo of the "Plumb Bob," shaped glass float, I cannot help but wonder if there were any ever produced? If so, does one or more exist?

What glass company produced their final Grooved Gill Net Float, and perhaps other experimental shapes the Davis' tried?

How soon after Jan. 16, 1877 did the D.W. & S.H. Davis Gill-Net become available, and used?

When was the S. H. Davis Grooved Gill Net Float first produced? The timing between the patent date, and the first manufacturing of round Cod Gill Net Floats in Boston, Mass. is so close. Just which one was the first American-made glass float?

The Patent No. 186,232 certainly indicates that either the Davis Gill Net Float, or experimental glass floats that they may have tried prior to that float, were the first.

Per has requested me to add the following concerning the photos for this post:
Images copyright © 2009

Kindly do not copy, use or re-distribute the photos from this post without the permission of either Per, or myself.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

D.W. & S.H. Davis

I know that I'm missing something. Hours of Googling the S.H. Davis & Co. Gill Net Float Patented Jan. 16th. 1877, has not produced the information looked for, but there were a couple of surprises and leads.

Speculating and extrapolating like crazy, the following is presented.

Could the American gill net float pictured above, be an additional proof of the pre-1930's production of American glass fishing floats?

Was the S.H. Davis float actually patented? I'm not certain that the float itself was patented, but am open to be proven wrong. Research caused me to ponder that question.

In the "Scientific American, Vol. XXXVI No.8, A Weekly Journal of Practical Information, Art, Science, Mechanics, Chemistry and Manufactures," dated, Feb. 24th. 1877, there is a listing of the patents for January 1877. In that list is Patent #186,232, for a gill net patented by D.W. & S.H. Davis.

I find it interesting to come across the initials "D.W.," associated with "S.H." The float is not marked with those first two initials, yet the patent for the date embossed onto the float, does. The patent is not for the float, but for a gill net. I could find no patent for a glass gill net float from the date embossed onto the float's glass.

Was the float copied from the Norwegian Grooved Egg, and included with the net in the original specifications for the patent application? Comparing the two floats, I cannot help but make the conclusion that the float is a copy of the Norwegian Grooved Egg Float.

The patent application to the United States Patent Office was done by Munn & Co. Munn & Co.'s Patent Offices, was an agency used to secure patents. It had the knowledge and connections to speed up the patent process, and for a fee, provided that much needed service. The U.S. Patent Office was notoriously slow to issue patents to individuals.

In the advertisements found in the Scientific American, I found the following:

"A complete copy of any patent in the annexed list, including both the specifications and drawings, will be furnished from this office for one dollar. In ordering, please state the number, and date of the patent desired, and remit to Munn & Co, 37 Park Row, New York City."

Googling like crazy, only produced the finding that the company no longer existed, and that I could not find anything more about the patent for the gill net, other than what is found in the Scientific American. Certainly wish that I could be unstuck in time, like Kurt Vonnegut's protagonist Billy, in "SLAUGHTER HOUSE FIVE," and travel back, mail a buck off' and get the specs and a copy of the original patent. Maybe someone reading this post, has a copy of the patent, and can send a photo or copy of it for this blog?

There were two other interesting facts uncovered about D.W. & S.H. They also patented a method to facilitate the shipment of frozen fish in barrels. In a letter showing Patent #165596, dated April 6, 1875, from the Bulletin of the United States Fish Commission is the following:

"Messrs. D.W. & S.H., Davis of Detroit, Mich., introduced a process by which fish are frozen in circular pans of varying sizes suited to the measurement of the barrels. After being frozen, the contents of each pan are removed entire and placed in appropriate position in the barrel, and the barrel headed and placed in cold storage."

So D.W. & S.H. were located in Detroit, Michigan. Does that indicate that the D.W. & S.H. gill net was developed to fish for freshwater fish in the Great Lakes? Just maybe, one or more of those wonderful and rare American Grooved Gillnet Floats can be located in the Detroit vicinity?

The photo showing the Davis Gill Net Float in hand was provided by Ken Busse.
The photo below Ken's photo, is a Grooved Flesland float, also shown in hand.

Early American Float

Before starting to write a new post, I wanted to post a couple of additional photos of the early-American gillnet float. The photos help to show the pre-1890 amber/green color of the float's glass.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Submission to the Post from the Norsknailpounder

One of the readers of this blog has sent me a couple of great photos from his glass float collection. This reader and collector has within the last three years, built one of the finest European glass fishing float collections in the world, and it is a pleasure to add his submissions to the blog. Thank you for your permission to publish your photos.

The photo of the picture window with hanging floats, shows a number of beautiful net line markers. These strung-together combinations of floats were also installed between the buoy markers, along the gillnet's headline, in order to keep "sag" out of the net in calm waters.

Additional Photos of American Cod Gillnet Fishing in 1880/81

Feeling that the photos shown below the post describing the first use and making of glass floats in America, were too small, I decided to take some photos from the book, HOUSE MISCELLANEOUS DOCUMENTS 1st. Session, 48th. Congress 1883-'84 vol.33, REPORT OF THE COMMISSIONER OF FISH AND FISHERIES 1884. Perhaps the readers of this blog will appreciate seeing in more detail, the construction and use of the nets.

The top photo shows the method for checking the nets for fish. The method is called "Underrunning."
Here is the description of the method from the book:

"Fish are caught only at night, and, consequently, the nets are underrun only in the morning, unless the men are detained by unfavorable weather until later in the day. In underrunning, the fisherman goes to one of the buoys on the end of his gang of nets, takes it in the dory, and hauls away on the buoy line, the buoy being thrown out on the other side, and the line allowed to run out on one side as fast as it is hauled in on the other. When the anchor line (or underrunning line, as it is sometimes called)is up, it is taken across the dory, and the fisherman hauls along towards the net. The gear is underrun by pulling the nets in on one side of the dory, and, as fast as the fish are removed, allowing the apparatus to pass over the other side into the water; the anchors, which remain firmly fixed in the bottom, holding the nets in position until the work is accomplished. When the end of the gang is reached, it is thrown off the dory, and the nets remain setting as before, needing no further attention until the next day.
As will be readily understood, this method of fishing can be carried on with the minimum of labor; and it also has this additional advantage, namely, while the gear is still out, the vessel may take her morning's catch to market, or, if the weather is threatening, she may remain quietly at anchor overnight in the nearest harbor, though in the meantime her nets are fishing."

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

An American Float

The photo above, shows a rather inconspicuous dark olive/amber, well-used glass ball. It was purchased from a seller living on the Northeast Atlantic Coast. When looked at a bit closer, the color of the glass indicates that the float was made prior to about 1890. The color is the color of very old wine bottle glass-a color indicating manufacturing up to a hundred or more years before 1890. By 1890, that color of glass was no longer used, except in the occasional alcohol bottle. The various shades of green/amber glass are sometimes called “natural colors.” The various shades of this color were caused by the amount of iron oxide in the sand that was used in the glass mixture. This is an old float.

How many times was it used and reused by different fishermen? If it could speak to us, what stories could it tell of storms, high seas, tranquil days bobbing above or under the water, great Whales and other fish that were swimming close to it, Codfish caught in the gill nets it was attached to or the lives of the men who used it?

There is no maker’s marking or cachet embossed anywhere on the glass. If there was a mark on its seal button we will never know, because it was chipped off from use. Who was the glassblower who blew it? Did he have a young apprentice, or was it blown by a two-man team of experienced European immigrants? In what glass factory was it blown in? Who wove the very American-looking sparse cap net for it? Was it netted prior to its last net, and if so, how many times was it netted and re-netted? Is this one of the oldest American floats in existence?

Wait a minute! America did not start making floats until sometime in the early 1930's. The North West Glass Company of Seattle, Washington made their first floats about 1933. Perhaps the Crystalite floats from Glendale, California came first? How could this guy be writing about an American float made before 1890? Well, there is a story, and there is proof.

From “THE FISHERIES AND FISHERY INDUSTRIES OF THE UNITED STATES,” Section V, volumes I and II. The Gill-Net Cod Fishery, by J.W. Collins

Although gill-nets have long been used in Northern Europe, more especially in Norway, as an apparatus for the capture of cod, and are considered indispensable by the Norwegians, they have not until recently been introduced into the United States. In 1878 Prof. Spencer F. Baird, U.S. Commissioner of Fisheries, knowing how profitably these were employed by the Norwegian fishermen, decided to make experiments with them at Cape Ann, with a view to their introduction among the cod fishermen of this country. He accordingly secured a number of the Norwegian nets, which were sent to Gloucester and there tested by the employees of the Commission.

Experiments were made when the winter school of cod were on the shore grounds, but the results obtained were not satisfactory, owing chiefly to the fact that the nets were found far too frail for the large cod which frequent our coast in winter. This was apparent from the numerous holes in the nets, which indicated plainly that large fish had torn their way through, none being retained excepting those that had become completely rolled up in the twine. The current also swept them afoul of the rocky bottom, which injured them still more, so that they were soon rendered nearly unfit for use. The nets were invariably in bad order when hauled from the water, but even under such unfavorable circumstances nearly a thousand pounds of fish were caught on one occasion. This seemed to indicate that nets of sufficient strength might be used to good advantage, at least on some of the smoother fishing grounds along the coast.

These preliminary trials, therefore, having demonstrated that nets could be employed advantageously in the American cod fisheries, Professor Baird availed himself of the first opportunity that offered for obtaining definite knowledge of the methods of netting cod in Norway, with intention of disseminating this information among American cod fishermen.

The opening of the International Fishery Exhibition at Berlin, Germany, in the spring of 1880 presented a favorable opportunity for accomplishing this purpose. Professor Baird having appointed me as one of the commission to attend the exhibition on the staff of Prof. G. Brown Goode, desired that a careful study should be made of the foreign methods of the deep-sea fisheries as represented at the exhibition. The method of capturing cod with gill-nets, as practiced by the Norwegian fishermen, was mentioned as a subject which should receive especial consideration, and it was suggested that it might even be desirable to visit Norway, so that the practical operation of this fishery could be observed.

It was the original intention of Professor Baird that a report of the observations made at the Berlin exhibition should be published as soon after the return of the commissioners as possible, but circumstances delayed its preparation.

The use of gill-nets in the cod fisheries at Ipswich Bay during the winter of 1880-‘81 resulted in such complete success that there is probability that they may be, at some future time, introduced into the bank fisheries, as well as those along the coast.

That is the story of the first use of gill nets for Cod in the United States.. The story goes on to describe the making of and the size and structure of the Norwegian gill nets. A couple of interesting parts of Mr. Collins writing are as follows.

The three-layed hemp twine, which is the most common size, weighs a pound to 400 or 420 fathoms. It is made chiefly on spinning wheels by the fishermen’s families, and the nets are constructed almost exclusively by the fishermen and their wives and children. Some of the hemp twine, however is furnished by the factories of Norway and Great Britain, which also supply all of the cotton and linen twine.

And: The nets are generally prepared for use in Norway by tanning, and will last, when so prepared, from one to five seasons. The nets are supported upright in the water by floats of wood, cork, or hollow glass. At the Lofoten Islands, where nets are more extensively used than elsewhere, the glass floats are preferred, it being said that they replace to great advantage the old wooden ones, which failed to prevent the nets from settling on the bottom.

The glass floats are about 5 inches in diameter, with a covering of tarred marlin or spun-yarn hitched over them, to which is attached an eye. In this eye is bent the small rope that holds them to the net. When so prepared for use, these floats are very strong, and break far less frequently than might be supposed. They withstand the pressure of water when submerged better than anything else that has been tried, but are sometimes filled with water-“drunken” it is called-when set in 70 or 80 fathoms. The small ropes with which these are held to the nets vary in length from 11/2 to 6 feet.

In that same book in the chapter, “The Cod, Haddock, and Hake Fisheries,” by G. Brown Goode, there is the following:

Buoys of different kinds are used by the Norwegian fishermen, but, according to Mr. Wallem, at the Lofoten Islands glass buoys, having a capacity of about three to five gallons, are the most common. These are generally egg-shape (could this be a description of the large and rare teardrop floats that Pereinar 123 found) and are covered in the same manner as the glass floats. Sometimes a buoy is made by fastening several of the latter around a staff. The glass buoys of both kinds are employed in the trawl as well as the net fishery; they will rise to the surface again after having been under water for several days-an advantage not possessed by other kinds-and it seems that buoys of this description might be profitably used by our bank fishermen, who frequently lose large quantities of gear on account of the wooden ones bursting and filling with water when they are submerged to any considerable depth. Hard-wood iron-bound kegs are used by some of the Norwegian net fishermen. From two to four glass floats, (this seems to be a description of the beautiful 2-5 Norwegian netted-together glass floats sometimes found on Ebay auctions) such as are on the nets, are fastened to the bight of the buoy line at different distances from the buoy, for the purpose of keeping the slack or scope from going on the bottom when there is no current. Where there is a strong tide, and a probability of the large buoy being drawn under the surface of the water, a number of the glass balls are attached to it with a line, these serving as “watch-buoys” for the other.

I have to stop this narrative here, and change direction a bit. So far the writing has been mostly a discription of the Norwegian use of glass fishing floats and cod gill nets, and nothing to point to glass floats being made here in the 1880's. I promise the reader that we will get there, but the story of the use of gill nets for Cod in Ipswich Bay, Rhode Island, is an interesting one, and part of the history of the manufacturing of glass fishing floats and gill nets here in the U.S.A.

In another fine book, “THE FISHERMAN’S OWN BOOK,” By Proctor Brothers, there is a chapter: “Gill-Net Codfishing in Ipswich Bay.” The same story that is contained in the book introduced above, is contained in this book, but in slightly greater detail.

Impressed with the importance of the saving made in the cost of bait, and of time consumed in procuring bait, Prof. Baird decided in the Summer of 1878, when the Summer quarters of the Fish Commission were located in Gloucester, to experiment as to the practicability of introducing the Norwegian methods in our waters. Accordingly, he procured a set of Norwegian gill nets, which attracted considerable attention at the laboratory of the Commission at Fort Wharf, from their novel construction and curious glass floats. When the Winter school of codfish set in, in the Fall of 1878, experiments were made with these nets on the “Old Man’s Pasture,” but it was found that the nets were too frail for the large cod which frequent our coast in Winter, and for the strong current and rocky bottom along our shores.
The story of the task force going to the International Fisheries Exhibit at Berlin continues, and then the narrative goes on.

Meanwhile the Norwegian seines remained at the Gloucester headquarters of the Fish Commission, with the understanding that they were at the service of any responsible master who desired to experiment with them.

In the Fall of 1880 the scarcity of bait interfered with the successful prosecution of the shore fishery, and at the suggestion of Capt. Stephen J. Martin, an attache of the Commission, his son, Capt. George H. Martin, decided to make a trial of net fishing in the schooner Northern Eagle of Gloucester. Securing the nets belonging to the Commission, and procuring others of improved construction, the Northern Eagle made a thorough trial of this method of fishing for shore cod in Ipswich Bay in the Winter of 1880-81, with such success that before the season closed quite a number of the shore fleet provided themselves with similar outfits.
The experiment proved a success from the start. For the first three nights the catch was 4,000, 6,000 and 7,000 lbs. respectively, although the weather was unfavorable and the trawl fishermen were securing only about half the amount taken by the Northern Eagle. In eight days’ fishing this schooner took 40,000 lbs. Of large fish, and on one trip, ending Jan. 11, 1881, she took a fare of 35,000 lbs., of which 8,000 lbs. were taken in one morning.

The nets used by the Ipswich Bay Fishermen are made of strong Scotch flax twine, twelve-thread, and are of nine-inch mesh (41/2 inches square). Those used by Capt. Martin were 50 fathoms long and 3 fathoms deep, while other vessels, later in the season, used nets 100 fathoms long and 2 fathoms deep. The floats were of glass, fifty of them being attached to a fifty-fathom net. Bricks were used as sinkers, one being attached to the foot of the net directly beneath each of the floats. These fifty-fathom nets cost about $18 each, and a fourteen pound trawl anchor was attached to each end of a gang of three nets.

From THE FISHERIES AND FISHERY INDUSTRIES OF THE UNITED STATES, Section V, volumes I and II, comes this wonderful information:

These nets have been principally made by the American Net and Twine Company, and H. & G. W. Lord, Boston, Mass.; and These glass floats are made at the glass factories in Boston.

In my research I have come up with the names of two glass companies that were operating in the Boston area, and in which the glass floats for the first American-made Cod gill nets may have been made: New England Glass Co. and Boston & Sandwich Glass Co. I lean toward the Boston & Sandwich Glass Co. as having been the primary maker. It was a large enough company to handle the great demand for cod gill net glass floats that happened within a very short time. Unfortunately, I have been unable to confirm my theory in the existing records of the Boston & Sandwich Glass Co.

Additional research shows that Prof. Baird circulated a free, illustrated pamphlet during the years 1880-1882, describing all the methods of gill net fishing.

Notice of successful Cod fishing printed in the Cape Ann Advertiser Dec. 8th. 1882 entitled: “The Good Results of Net Cod Fishing,” reads, “Tues. 12/4, the boat Equal with two men took 5,000 lbs. of large codfish, in seven nets offshore, sharing $40.00 each. The Rising Star has stocked $1,200.00 the past fortnight fishing in Ipswich Bay. The Morrill Boy has shared $101.00 to a man net fishing off this shore the past three weeks.”

By 1883, many women of Gloucester were employed in making nets. On 11/25, 1883 Capt. Martin writes to Capt. Collins: “Everybody is at work. A great Winter’s work is anticipated.”

Capt. Collins writes: “The demand by November 1883 for nets was so high that the fishermen had a hard time obtaining gear. On one occasion several boats had to wait four days to get a supply of glass floats, which are so essential to this fishery.” In the winter of 1883/84 gill nets cost $14.25 each, and glass floats were 22 cents ea. at their lowest price.

This knowledge of the first use and manufacturing of glass floats in the United States, has been kept locked up tight in my mind, and not shared with anyone for many years. The thought that one day I would write a book about glass fishing floats, and that this information would be a great chapter in that book, was the reason why I never shared the information. One day in a conversation with Ken Busse, we were talking about our theories and discoveries about glass floats, and I almost spilled the beans. Ken asked me if I wanted to share some of the thoughts that I had, and share we did. Somehow, I kept this story to myself until now. As a few of you know, my desire to write a book changed. Instead, I’ve decided to start this blog. I truly love to handle and look at my old American float, and wonder about its story.


The photos show the typical Cod gill net sets, and one of a Norwegian marker buoy. The bottom photo shows a bottom set gill net, and what is interesting is the marker buoy on the top right of the net line. It appears to be one of the Norwegain "Teardrop" or "Sea Dog" floats