Monday, July 19, 2010

Branded or Incised Floats, with Charles Abernethy


"1986 was a very good year, consisting of two trips to our Pacific North West, having correspondents on far-flung Kure Island, two correspondents on far-flung Midway Island, and finally, the completion of my POSEIDON'S TREASURES FLOAT ROOM."

Charles continued on page 11:

THE JUMBO DOUBLE SAUSAGE. At a gathering at a friend's impressive Japanese type home on a lake in the Seattle area one evening, a guest who had driven a good 160 miles for the occasion ecstatically displayed his latest find, a JUMBO DOUBLE SAUSAGE,**the only one ever heard of, and mayhap the only one in the world.

Then on page 12:

THE OLD RED FIRE ENGINE HOUSE ON ALASKA WAY IN SEATTLE. Now there's no more intriguing or dramatic spot on earth than the Old Red Fire Engine House on Seattle's bustling and tourist thronged waterefront.

Not to take out an hour or so while passing through Seattle to browse about its bewildering indescribable objets d'art would be just as remiss as going to Athens and missing the Acropolis, or going to London and missing The Tower, or...or...or.

It contains a dozen or so antique shops on its three creaky and dust-laden floors. The contents of these shops are to be found nowhere else on earth: they, too are dust covered from being housed a good half-century on the sagging shelves.

Everything from crumbling ship's life preservers, to rusted farm tools, to shabby pre-WWI soldiers' uniforms to completely unrecognizable rusted and wooden aricles are to be found here.

Even the shopkeepers seem cachetic from long years in the half-gloom moving about in a state of suspended animation. A few glassfloats might be found if the shopkeeper can remember where he put them in 1944. One gentleman kept some in several old nail kegs: when I reached in to examine them, the nets covering them crumbled into dust.

Just one hour before AMTRAK time, I returned there...I just HAD to get a float on this desparation. I reached the top floor to a back shop. What little daylight crept through the soot covered windows, reflected millions of dust particles that slowly eddied about in the air.

"Glass Floats?" began the shopkeeper. "Hm'm'm...oh, yes." From the bottom of a cabinet he brought out three, a 3", a 4" and a 7", all clear glass. No logos on the first two. My heart sank. Was I coming out on this long VERY expensive journey supposedly to see EXPO '86, but in reality to try to find some rare floats in vain???? Slowly, I rotated the 7" in dejection and with reluctance. There...there...there was a trademark-HFC. I could barely see was INCISED deeply into the surface.

The only INCISED plug I had ever seen was on a float I'd received from KURE ISLAND with "MADE IN JAPAN," crudely engraved in a circle around the plug.

"They're from Norway," he said smiling like all Norwegians do. "I'm going back there next week. Leave your name and address and....."

To find a rare European float in the Pacific Coast shop was absolutely unbelievable. It's like bringing Coals to New Castle, as it were!

However, they should be snapped up in a trice by North West Pacific collectors. The price for this collectible? (That is a new word these days. "Collectible")??? Well, it was $8.50. How does a shopkeepeer arrive at that conclusion????

This last second acquisition made the entire trip worth while. I slid it into my canvas "DITTY BAG"...ALWAYS AT HAND...paid my $8.50 (no State Sales Tax), and quietly slithered out of the Old Red Fire Engine House into bustling Alaska Way.

Another great "Cholly" story. A smile crosses my face whenever I've read his usage of the term "slithered out"? Once in a while, we all get a "steal of a deal," and behind the feeling of happiness, don't you have that "slithered out," feeling too?

A few months ago, my friend Olaf, the "Float Collector Extraordinaire," traded for Charles' colorless incised, or branded HFC. After he told me about the trade and the float being in transit, I promised to one day tell him the story of his float's finding by Charles Abernethy. I'm finally getting around to giving him the story, and wrote him to say that he could find it here on this post. Nice guy I am!! At least I kept my word!

The float travelled to the Old Red Fire Engine House, and sat there collecting dust, until Charles Abernethy purchased it. After Charles passed on to join the Float God Fraternity, his float was sold to David Lee, then to Ken Busse, then to Todd "The Norsknailpounder" and was later traded to, and now, resides in the collection of Olaf, "The Float Collector Extraordinaire."

Charles called the marking "incised." That would mean that the mark was cut into the seal button. I only know of a handful of floats with this HFC mark, and to me, the lettering is branded. The mark is consistent, and on the edge of the embossing on my colorless example, there is evidence of the marking tool. Evidence of a tool used to emboss the seal, leads me to believe that it wasn't actually handcut into the seal, but rather a branding tool was used.

Olaf and I both believe that the HFC floats are Swedish-made. There are a few companies that come to mind as being the possible makers of this float: Kosta Boda; Orrefors Glasvaerk and Holmegaards Glasvaerk. "Possible," is the key word here, because proof of the maker is unknown at this time. I've searched through a few excellent tables of maker's markings, but have not found the branded HFC yet.

I did not know of this very uncommon marking until I read Cholly's story of finding his. I've been inside of that store, and looked all over it for floats. At one time, Charles and I had been in the same place (the 1st. Ocean Shores Beachcombers' Fair 1985), but did not meet. I met Amos Woods on Sunday afternoon, during the last few hours of the show. At that time Nancy, the children and I lived a few miles away from Ocean Shores at Copalis Beach.

Copalis Beach is located on Washington State's coastline. It's at the southern tip of the rainforest. Whenever we drove north toward the Tahola Indian Reservation, we were treated to the sights of beachcombed floats decorating the locals' windows, front porches and yards. Glassball hunting tales were part of the local customs and conversations. Floats could be readily purchased in antique stores, garage sales, and flea markets, and I found many of them hiking the beach at the right times.

I knew one guy on the east side, main drag of downtown Hoquiam, who had a thriving comic book shop. Above the sales floor, built out about 10 feet from the back and right sidewalls, was a loft. Many visits to the store found me looking up. My eyes feasted on the many hundreds of fabulous glass balls hanging from the loft's guard rail, and sitting on the loft's floor-singly or in neat piles. There were many-hard-to-see floats behind the floats on the outer edge. As often as I drooled over that sight, and talked to the owner about his collection (all purchased or traded for comic books from locals), I never did have the opportunity to go upstairs to see the floats up close or to hold them in my hands. I can tell you that there were many rare beauties in different colors, sizes and shapes, and every size of round balls from Japan, Northwestern Glass, Corning, and quite possibly Euros. I knew nothing about Euros in my early float collecting days during the last of the 1970's until the mid-1980's. I am only guessing about his having Euros too.

I'm glad that an advertisement for the 1st. Ocean Shores Beachcomber's Fair came to my attention. It was the only one I've attended. Maybe this year? Just a few months after the "85 show, in the beginning of July, we sold our cabin, and moved across the country.

Our Copalis Beach home and property were at the base of a forested mountain. The cabin had been built as a summer visitor's rental after WWII, and was located on a flattened piece of land above a hill overlooking the lower tidal stretch of the Copalis River.

The view from our front cabin windows started at the front yard onto a dirt path defining the front property line. On the other side of the dirt path was another path which led through Salalberry bushes, down the hillside, ending at the two-lane, quiet coastal Highway #1.

Johnson's Merchantile Store with the Copalis Beach post office inside, was on the road's left, and the old-no-longer-used cinderblock, brick, rock and mortar Copalis Jail was on the river side of the road. The road curved left and north crossing the Copalis on a low, wooden 2-lane bridge.

Our view continued with the river coursing under the bridge in a smooth run of water above the 1st. hole. In the fall, the wild Coho Salmon rested in that hole prior to continuing their journey upriver during the first half hour of the incoming tide. The view/river continued down, flowing out of the hole to the hole's western edge-a huge snag made up of trunks, root stumps, and tops of trees. The tree parts were washed down the river during high storm waters. Passing through the snag, the river followed the righthand curve of a point of land on my friend, Walt Plumb's property, and after another long straight run, ended at its Pacific Ocean mouth. On both the southern and northern shores of the river's mouth, I often found beached glassfloats.

Also commanding the view, one could see the waves come ashore on the beach. The river and lowland marsh were protected from storm surges by a line of sandunes. Many sunny summer days found our family of four hiking in the dunes, and picking the tiny sweet wild strawberries growing there.

That was the view from the cabin's windows and property. Our living room picture window which looked out at that view, was bowed in by the gusts of winds from big storms more than once. It never broke. Brick chimneys were shattered by the gusts. Great old growth trees flattened. Mountain edges broken and washed into the sea. Yet, our reliable living room window took the brunt of the fierce winds in stride. Those who lived there were accustomed to the turmoil, and those winds also brought the glassfloats ashore. Copalis Beach, our cabin, our friends and glassballs at that time of our lives are a bond between Nancy, Chloe, Morgan and I.

Hmmm...Got away from the story line there, but enjoyed the time describing my memories to you. Back to the HFC's and branded/incised floats...

I only know of three colorless HFC floats, mine, Olaf's and one belonging to a name-unknown-to-me bottle collector. Todd has a yellow glass example. And I also have a 6.5" diameter netted blue beauty. Are there others out there in collections? If you have one, kindly let me know, and if possible-send a photo or two to share.

Todd emailed photos of his colorless HFC a year or two before he traded it. He too wrote about the indented rather than embossed marking. His float really grabbed me by the "****s"...and I was hooked by the desire to have a "branded one."

Perhaps a week or two passed after Todd's email and floatos, and while looking at a few floats, picked up one of the rarer round balls in the collection. It was won on an auction from the UK, and was sold by a man who found the float at an outdoor French marketplace. It's color is unique in my experience of Euros. It's a very rich and dark aquamarine that leans to blue/green. While looking at it, I suddenly realized, "Hey! This float's cachet (large letters, "FG,") is branded!"

That night, a couple of photos of that float and its maker's mark, were sent to Todd together with the news that there was a second type of float with the incised-branded-indented mark. Since that realization, another large-lettered FG was sold on Ebay, also from France.

At the end of last winter, Barry "the man of 1000 floats," auctioned a unique amber 3.5 inch Northwestern Glass Co. float. It is the standard NWGC float with it's raised neck seal, and flattened base. The base is one of the uncommon bases with the markings normally found on a glass beer bottle base, perhaps put there to help the bottle from sliding or tipping over? The letters, NW and the number 1 are embossed on the base. What makes this particular float so special is found at the top of the raised neck seal. Branded there is the letter "T," and next to the "T," is another branded letter, a "backward S." Every mold mark on the float (except the NW and #1) is crisp and clean, and I wonder if the float was one of the first out of a particular production, and had been branded by an inspector? A mystery that may never be solved.

There are four branded floats in my collection. Do you have any? Are they differently embossed then those described here? Kindly let me know, and if you wish to, I will share them on the blog. Also, if you have an HFC, let me know. I would like to keep a documentation on the number of them that are known to exist.

As we all educate, be educated by our cohorts, and reveal whatever new history we can to glass fishing float history, anything of interest that you may know is important to this joint endeavor.

It was good to get back to some more Cholly Abernethy tales. Thank you for reading.