Sunday, August 07, 2011

Spending Time With Cholly "The Man Who Came Before Us"

I would like to dedicate this post to Charles Abernethy's son-Mike Abernethy. About one year ago, there was a surprise email from Mike in which he thanked me for writing about his Father. I had hoped that one day, one of Charles' family would come across the blog writing, and contact me. Since that realization of my daydream, we have traded a few very nice emails. Last spring, Mike and his daughter helped give my friend Bruce, a wonderful gift. In order to make that gift possible, Mike took time out of a very important family visit to help me. Thanks again Mike.

Earlier today, an email was sent to "The Raven," in which I told him of plans to revisit Charles Abernethy's booklets for another post. Also written, were thoughts about how wonderful it would be if Charles was still alive. What fun all of us collectors would have had with him. Ended those thoughts with happiness that Charles did what he did through his writing as well as his being our European Float Grandfather. In a telephone conversation with Alan D. Rammer, I asked Alan who inspired him and Stu Farnsworth to collect European floats? He said that Charles was the catalyst for collecting European floats. It was Charles who introduced the West Coast collectors to his European and Japanese Caribbean finds, and floats directly from Europe via notices he had people place on post office billboards, and anywhere else he could think of. Around the world, Charles was "putting out the word," that there was a man looking to purchase glass fishing floats. Once Cholly was bitten with the float bug, there was no stopping his imagination, or desire to add to his collection. His booklets are dated from 1979 until 1990, and each one is a little enthusiastic gem, written by a man who truly loved the glassfloat hunt, the people involved and the floats that came to him. It's such a pleasure to read his writing, and to reproduce some of it for you. From Charles' booklet: A Potpourri of Rare Floats 1983


Such a phrase is the constant watchword of the float collector. So, this year before I visited the West Indies I decided to send out a few letters to the post masters of two towns to be placed on their bulletin boards (a ruse I learned about from an eminent collector). Interested persons were to contact a man who lived in the city of Kingstown, St. Vincent.

When I arrived at the airport my friend met me with a hearty handshake and then burst out laughing. He said the two postmasters, instead of posting the notices on their bulletin boards contacted the Island's radio station. My friend beamed with pleasure at hearing his name on the air for all 150,000 inhabitants to hear.

"Well, how many floats did you get?" I broke in excitedly.
"None," he replied, "not one, but it sure was nice to hear my name on the radio."


Deep in the native section of Kingstown on the island of St. Vincent, is a drab, unpainted ramshackle building bearing the sign "Fishnet Restaurant". Festooned from the ceiling is a large fishnet decorated with conch shells, lobster claws, starfish and crabs. In the corners of the ceiling are hung large Fishermens glass floats with nets. Despite the few low voltage light bulbs, you can just make out the rickety tables and chairs. What it lacks in impressive furnishings, it makes up with its delicious West Indian dinners of fresh caught dolphin fish, lobsters, conch (or "lambi"), and savory exotic vegetables unknown in the States...christophines, dasheens, breadfruit cakes and plantin.

As I walked to the counter to alert the waitress, my attention was caught by the strange 4-foot glass float marker as shown on page 2.

I had never seen anything like it. It has a very heavy cylindrical metal base which contained a storage battery. On top of the base inscribed in raised letters was the following: SHINKOGYOKI S S MISAKE JAPAN. The 10-inch glass float bearing the double F trademark of the Hokuyo Glass Co of Japan, gives buoyancy to the marker. At the top is a tiny glass container with a small light bulb within. Near the top is a wooden tag with Japanese characters in red on one side, and the word "MERC URIO," on the other, the word divided into two separate lines.

As I stared at it in amazement, the owner Edgar Adams came up and said,

"It's a Japanese channel marker. Picked up by a friend of mine over twenty years ago right here in the Grenadine Islands. Said the lamp was still blinking when he got it. He loaned it to the restaurant as a decoration, but in all these years, you are the only customer who has ever asked one question about it."

I sent a photo of it to a collector friend describing the above events. He replied it is NOT a channel marker at all, but a marking device used by the longline tuna fishermen to mark the beginning and ending of every 100 sets of baited fishhooks as they are played out continuously over the stern of the fishing boat for a distance of sometimes 50 miles.

When the fishermen commence their operation, they first drop overboard marker #1, lighted and ready to do its job. Glass floats basketball size are attached to the line at certain intervals to keep it at a prearranged depth. These floats are the rubber collar type carrying a 6-foot bamboo pole topped with a red and white flag. Then when the next 100 sets of hooks are played out, over the side goes another lighted marker. At night the exact location of their continuous line can easily be observed. When a lighted marker shows unusual agitation it means there are plenty of fish at hand, and then a small boat will be dispatched to investigate the hooks.

As I left, Mr. Adams added,

"Walk on down Bay Street along the shore a half mile or so to the fishing village. They often find floats and bring them in here asking if I'm interested in buying any."

So off I trod in the blistering noonday sun. Not a soul was stirring on the streets...even the stray animals sought shade somewhere. All the shops were closed for a two hour siesta.

At length I found several fishing boats complete with outboard engines on the beach and a score of men idly lounging about under a canvas shelter. Hardly had I asked if there were any "Sea Balls" available when a teenage lad showed up with a green 12-incher in a frayed net...just the type I most enjoy. So suddenly did he appear that it seemed almost pre-planned! "How much?" I asked. The lad hung his head, staring at the ground. I knew then he'd never spoken to a white man before. With those men standing about looking and their knowing about how much money a float should command, I was cautioned to offer a proper price. When I made my offer, he held out his hand in acceptance, folded the banknotes and stuck them in his waistband.

One of the fishermen, a pleasant outgoing fellow, shouted to me, "You take snap of the lad holding the sea ball." That suited me, as the tourist must exercise care in the West Indies when using a camera. The natives just do not care to have their photos taken indiscriminately. Timidly, the lad held up the float. As I left, pleased to get a float and content with the brief interlude at the tiny village, the leader smiled, "You send snap to name is Nick."

In due time I mailed copies of the glass float marker to Mr. Adams enclosing Nick's photo and the shy lad who held up the float. Forty two days later I received a note from Nick St. Clair thanking me for the snaps and telling me he had a grapefruit float he'd send me soon.

So, you see, once in a while, a long complicated chain of events regarding floats will produce some pleasant and positive results.

The St. Vincent 6" Purple L.T.

Ultimately, - six months later - after six months of waiting and six months of palm greasing, I received a roughly wrapped 6"cube-shaped parcel who's sides suspiciously bulged -- It was Nick's float at last! It's a very beautiful 2-piece molded, very light purple with net bearing the mark LT. I had obtained two other LT's xome years ago on Grand Cayman Island. Its color is so extremely pale - almost clear when looked at on its equator that the only purple noticeable is as you look around its circumference.

I hung it outdoors in the sunlight to observe if such exposure to the elements would deepen its purple color. It is said, that by so exposing floats, that the color of the basic ingredients will become more pronounced. Five months later the manganese dioxide has perceptibly deepened its purple color.

It has never firmly been established exactly what country is the manufacturer, tho' some have turned up in the West Indies and none apparently along our West Coast. I would hazard, therefore, they're European made.

Even now, glassfloat collectors wonder where the LT marked floats were made, and what the letters, "LT" mean is unknown. My guess is that the floats were made in France. It has been conjectured that the letters stand for "London Transit," and at one time, I wondered if they stood for Lowestoft. The fishing vessels' numbers from Lowestoft start with the letters, "LT".

Later, Charles writes a pretty acerbic two paragraphs:


I received a 3" very very light almost imperceptible green two-piece molded float with a most insignificant sealing button located where the two halves are joined together. It is from RUSSIA. A more drab, unstimulating float I have never seen. It has the blahs: it even lacks the expected hammer and sickle logo one would expect, as noted on other Russian floats washed up on our Pacific shores.

I have only to add that if all floats were as dullsville as this I would under no circumstances ever have considered collecting them at all!

"Hey Stu! Hey Alan! Did either of you send that float to Charles?"

Stu sent me one last year. While I understand (we were still in the Cold War/ Charles was a veteran) and chuckle at Cholly's distaste for that float, I do not agree with him. My little beauty sits next to a wonderful example of a Hammer & Sickle float. I'm so happy to have Stu's gift, and think the float is an uncommon float, not often found in collections. It is a great addition toward my goal of collecting the 5 Russian floats that I know of. Charles continues writing about other float acquisitions made that year which included a sandblasted Hokuyo Rolling Pin, a Spindle, three Korean 3-piece molded 3-inchers, the WAIKIKE WONDER - a 10-inch diameter blue/green Double F and a 4-inch Japanese Sausage Roller.

At the end of the booklet is the title:


Charles writes:

Since the most activity in finding floats has long been along our West Coast, it is a popular misconception that just about all the floats have been manufactured in Japan.

A glance at your Kwik-Reference pocket-size Float Chart shows that the above paragraph is a myth. Fishermen in Europe have used Norway-made floats since 1840, 70 years before Japan entered the market: Denmark, 40 years; and USA, 30 years. Unfortunately the Atlantic Ocean currents do not flow westward, and therefore we find but few European-made floats along our Atlantic shores.

It is noteworthy to observe that one landlocked country - Czechoslovakia - entered the market at the turn of the century, and turned out their beautiful, high quality and much sought after floats for 40 years, obviously on contract to other countries. Not only is their round MADE IN CZECHOSLOVAKIA logo neatly displayed, but even their sealing buttons are smooth and professionally turned.

When I look at the Charles' Chart, I am struck by the information contained there, especially when looking at the American dateline. Charles shows the 1st. American-made floats for the year, 1880. Did he have the same information that I do? How did he know that? Once again, I'm struck by the desire to be able to talk to him. Charles chart also shows: Floats being made in Belgium.

I wonder what those floats look like? I cannot remember hearing of Belgium-made floats. I stopped writing for a minute to look at the markings in Amos Wood's book, and found the boxed S over the A, as "reported to be of Belgium manufacture on float used in Atlantic Ocean Fishery in 1970's. From collection of Charles Abernethy."

He attributes floats being made in Scotland, and Czechoslovakia (the Czech Republic) first being made just a bit before or in the year 1900 and

He has the first Russian floats being produced a bit before or in the year 1960.

That leaves me with question marks concerning the Russian Hammer & Sickle float. When I look at my example, then compare it with the Russian 3. and the non-embossed Russian float, it is differently constructed and sized. All three were blown into a 2-piece mold, and the mold lines run from top to bottom on the floats, but the Hammer & Sickle's seal bead or button is larger and flattened, rather than slightly raised and rounded off. It's glass is differently textured. There is also a size difference. The Hammer & Sickle is 2 and 7/8ths. of an inch diameter, the other two are 2 and 3/4 inches in diameter. Also, the Hammer & Sickle floats, according to Amos Wood, were first beachcombed in 1936, which does not coincide with Charles' graph.

So what! You may be thinking to yourself. Well, for me, the float questions never stop. I want to know as much about floats as I am able to. So, I search for anything that will further my glassfloat understanding, and truly enjoy finding a piece of information such as Charles' QUICK REFERENCE FLOAT CHRONOLOGICAL CHART. Thanks to that chart, and Amos Wood's book, I now know what is considered to be a Belgium-made float.

Thank you's go out to Charles, Stu, Alan and Amos for giving so much of themselves to this collector, and I'm sure you agree - to all of us. I look forward to writing the next post, and hope you have enjoyed another visit with Charles Abernethy.

The Photos:
the 2nd. photo is Charles Abernethy; and
the 3rd. photo from left to right at the top: Stu Farnsworth, Charles Abernethy and Alan D. Rammer. In the lower center of the photo sits Amos Wood.

Put your browser over the photos, left click, and enjoy an enlarged photo.