Monday, December 26, 2011
KVEITEKULAS - Halibut Egg Floats
In mid-2000, Per Einar returned from a float expedition with photos and the great news that he found, and had in his possession, two Norwegian Large Egg floats. Did I want one? Absolutely! Then the bottom line, a line that was impossible for me to cross at that time of the year. It was winter, my expendable funds were low, and as much as I wanted to add one of those very rare floats to the collection, monetary restraint was necessary. As the years have passed since Per Einar's great finds, the desire to have an example in the collection - never diminished. Then...
It finally happened!
After 6 months of effort, coupled with a great trade, heartfelt thanks go out to the help of my friend "the Raven," and to the exertions of an unnamed explorer. The realization of having such a float, but also an example that was made from almost totally black glass, has been realized.
When I look at the float with back lighting, no light comes through the glass. It is only by having the sun positioned directly behind the float, that I see a small patch of red/brown amber.
My benefactor and I have speculated on what glassverk produced the deep brown glass Halibut Egg floats. The Raven wrote:
"The coastline of Norway, or length from south to north is about 2000 kilometers. All the big eggs are found between Bronnoysund and Trondheim. Located in the middle of Norway (a coastline of say about 300 kilometers) is the Namsos area with its historical 6 glassverks, about 1/3 of the distance from Trondheim area. The only glasswork north that made darker glass floats was Bjorum - marked B with the dott. I have one dark brown and amber from there, but the production list from 1880's doesn't say anything about Kveitekula. So the production place of these floats is still in the dark.
Schimmelmann is far south, in fact not more than 40 minutes with car from where I live. The location is wrong but the color is right. You know in 1830's they shipped with boats. That I know. So Schimmelmann Glasverk could have easily sent them north by boat for the halibut-fishermen. That would be poor speculation, but still a valid point for the blog. It is in fact easier to exclude which glassverk it can't be."
The great collector of rare colored authentic glass floats - Bruce Gidoll has one. The two of us were very lucky this year. Bruce got his float last winter via a purchase from the greatest haul of rare Norwegian floats that I know of. 18 months ago, the Raven sent me photos of three Kveitekulas that he had just received - two black, and one green. They were found by one explorer, who also had found another black, (Bruce's) as well as a handful of Aasnaes One Knobbed floats. Absolutely amazing!
Bruce and I talk on the telephone or email one another almost daily. A few days after the delicious wait for his float to arrive from the other side of the Atlantic ended, Bruce called to tell me,
"Tom, my Black Egg has climbed all the way to the top 3 of my favorite floats".
In a later telephone chat, he told me that it ascended to the top 2. That's saying a lot! Bruce's collection of rare and incredibly-colored authentic floats is amazing to see, and for that float to be among his top two favorites took me by surprise.
A few months later, knowing how much I would like to hold one in my hands to look at, he purchased a special carrying case for his float, packed it safely inside the case with bubble wrap, and brought it together with his sweet wife Lupe, to celebrate their visit to our home last April. Together with the float, they were ready with camera and enthusiasm to record the look on my face as I unpacked the float. At that time, I told Bruce about the Norwegian search, and later, the negotiations that were taking place on my behalf. He was cheering on the sidelines for me to have one too.
Bruce's float is different when looking at the glass seal or seal bead. His float has a raised and pointed seal, while mine has a flat and crude seal. The color of each floats' glass is the same when first looked at. My float captures less light when back lit. The weight of the floats are a surprise when first held. The glass is dense and heavy. At this time, I know of 5 brown examples of the dark brown/black glass, and 7 of the Green Halibut Eggs. The brown/black glass examples all exhibit the same thick and somewhat crude-looking mold lines. The Green examples are thinner through the body, not as heavy in the hand and the mold lines are sharper. The Raven, Bruce and I believe the black glass floats were blown into a wooden mold, and all produced by the same glassverks.
We are calling these floats, "Kveitekulas," or "Halibut Glass Balls". They were used for deep water fishing for Halibut. As the years passed into the 1900's, Portugese-made floats were used for fishing the deep waters for Halibut. They were among the few floats made with glass that was strong enough to withstand the terrific pressure found in the very deep waters fished for Halibut.
The Kveitekulas are a very unique float. According to those who have made expeditions throughout Norway looking for glass floats, they are very hard to find, and of the few that have been found, they are often family heirlooms, and not for sale or trade. The floats are part of the history of the fish known by the names: Kveite; Wheat Fish; God Fish or Halibut. The Halibut is a much revered fish in Norwegian history.
Rock carvings and bones from the great fish have been found in rock caves in the Rogaland, Trondelag and Nordland areas. It is estimated that the human habitations are at least 6000 years old. They were known as Wheat Fish, due to the fish trading in Eastern Finnmark, dating back to the 1600's. The trading of Halibut to the neighboring Russian people was the first trading between people in northern Norway and their farming neighbors in Russia. Those Norwegian fishermen were able to acquire grain in exchange for Halibut. The grain was very important to the people living in the cold and rocky areas where it was almost impossible to farm, and important to the Russian people who did not have access to the Halibut.
The "Wheat Fish," were highly prized, and their value was placed at the same weight in flour for trading. An average Halibut in those days, weighed well over 100 pounds. Cod, Haddock, Pollock and other fish were also traded, but it was the Halibut that were the most important species of fish for trading.
In the beginning the use of spears was the method used to catch the Halibut when they came to the shallow waters for spawning. Later, the use of lines with baited hooks made from carved bone, and fishing in deeper waters, became the method to capture the great fish. "Great," because of the huge size Halibut can grow to - over 600 pounds. In a short period of time, it was realized that the Halibut is slow growing, and too slow to mature to spawning age to allow heavy fishing pressure in any one area. Fishermen learned that areas where the Halibut lived were quickly depleted of fish, and they would not reappear there again. That reality necessitated a constant search to find the fish, and having to fish ever deeper and more dangerous waters became the norm.
As the fishery progressed through the years, and the fishermen fished further from shore, it was necessary to use either handlines or Trawl to catch the Halibut. I've read about the use of "line" (hand line), both from the northern and northwestern Norwegian coast. From Sunnmøre there is the story of a traditional line fishing in the winter:
At the islands, the day began at 4:00 A.M. The fishermen rowed their boats west towards deeper waters. After four to five hours of rowing, they arrived on the fishing grounds, as the day started to brighten. After all of the work to arrive at the area where Halibut had been caught, there still was the problem of finding the "right spot". The fish were not everywhere on the bottom. They would have specific areas to lie in wait (their bodies hidden under the sand) for baitfish, squid, etc., to swim past. As in all fishing, you might be close, but if you weren't in the right spot, you caught nothing. After being fished hard, there were fewer and fewer big fish to find. The waters fished were very deep with strong currents. In order to hold their lines down on the bottom, rocks weighing two pounds or so, were used. The Raven and I have searched for and discussed how the Kveitekulas or Large Egg floats were used. My Norwegian cohort has heard of fishermen saying that they were used on hand lines. From the limited evidence we have, it appears that Kveitekulas were used in hand line fishing rather than having been used on trawl lines, gill nets or trawl nets. As stated earlier, few of these floats have been found, and most are kept as family history. Does that mean that few were manufactured? I think it does.
It appears that a hand line fishery continued through the years of commercial Halibut fishing, but as the numbers caught in each area depleted, the need for gear capable of covering more area than a single handline with a few hooks on it, became necessary. Trawl line fishing had existed for a few hundred years prior to glass float use, and became the standard method used for Halibut as the boats became larger, and the need to catch more fish to pay for the boats and gear increased.
From the book Dorymates: A Story of the Fishing Banks, chapter X.
Trawls And Whales
"The Norwegian fishermen had been catching, selling and trading Halibut for centuries before the North Americans began appreciating this great fish. The Norwegians used a Trawl to catch them long before they were used here"
"A Trawler such as the schoonerVixen, is fitted out very differently from a seiner or a hand-liner. Instead of a large seine-boat, she carries from four to eight dories, and a crew sufficiently large to allow two men to each dory, besides the skipper and cook. The trawls are tarred cotton ropes the size of a lead-pencil, that come in lengths of about fifty fathoms, or three hundred feet each. To these are attached at distances of a fathom apart for cod, and a fathom and a half apart for halibut, short lines of from three to six feet long, to the ends of which hooks are made fast. About six of these lengths of trawl, or 1800 feet, are coiled in a tub, and each dory will carry out and set from four to six tubs of trawl in from twenty to two hundred fathoms of water. The lines contained in the several tubs are made fast to each other, and all are set in one straight line, from one to two miles in length. The trawls are anchored at each end, and buoyed by small kegs, so that the hooks shall hang just clear of the bottom."
And from the Congressional Edition, Volume 1, 1887 comes this description:
"Trawls: "When the fish swim at some distances above the bottom, the trawls are kept at the proper height by means of glass floats."
As technology advanced, and the use of glass floats on nets and lines increased, the use of glass floats to suspend baits on trawls became common. They were much more efficient than wooden balls, or corks, especially when used at the great depths that Halibut live in. The use of Portugese-made floats in Norway for Halibut and any other deep water fishing or netting became the accepted method. I often wonder if the heavy-thick-glassed floats embossed: British Made, with the 5-pointed North Star, and often a number in the center of the star, were used for deepwater fishing? I can see no other reason for the heft of those thick glassed floats.
Continuing the oft-repeated history of commercial fishing, as the numbers of Halibut diminished, the use of trawl nets, fished at great depths became the norm. From a description of Halibut fishing, comes the following information:
In September 1936, Ove Johansen using 10 nets, who's materials and labor were purchased with funds from state contributions, put them in deep water at Skråva in Lofoten. Line fishermen had left the area, believing that it was not possible to make a profit fishing for Halibut there. Johansen made great catches using the hemp yarn nets. The news spread quickly, and by October, 60 boats were fishing for Halibut - fishing with nets. The catches were very good. News of great catches continued to spread, and more and more boats began to fish, until at the end of November, the bottom fell out of the fishery, and the boats began to hunt the fish in new areas outside Hamarøy and Lødingen. The new gear was soon adopted with success wherever depth and bottom conditions permitted it.
During the many years of my study of commercial fishing, a timeline has become evident. That timeline equates the changes in fish populations with the necessity to fish deeper and more dangerous waters, and the change in gear, etc. As the decades of commercial fishing passed, the methods changed. Trawl net fishing became the most often used technique. From the late 1870's until the first years after WWII, the use of trawl nets who's headlines were strung with glass floats, reaped the huge catches necessary to feed the populations, to pay the investors, to pay for the boats, gear, food and supplies to keep a crew, and to pay the crew itself. The huge number of Trawl nets that were used during that 80-year history, accounts for the tremendous production of millions of glass floats in Europe, Scandinavia and America.
Together with the need for the huge endeavors necessary to feed the world's people and fishing economy, came the demise of the great populations of Halibut and other fish that once existed. Afer WWII, the decline in fish populations continued. The need for better fish-finding technology, huge factory ships trawling huge trawl nets, necessitated the use of metal gearing, causing the end of glass float use. Metal and plastic floats could withstand the new metal gearing, and quickly took the beautiful glass floats' place. Those Halibut Egg floats that exist as family heirlooms in northwestern Norway, and in the collections of a few collectors, are reminders of what once existed.
I'm so very fortunate to have an example, and wish to tell you how much that float excites me. I cannot put it inside of a case. It sits on top of a low case to my right. The sun shines through the south-facing window, and lights up the floats around the Halibut Egg. The Kveitekula remains black. It does not reflect the colors of it's glass, as the others do. I am able to caress it in my hands at will. I can feel the variety of textures - the ripples, nicks, patches of undulations and the indentation that is the size of my thumb print on its glass skin. Together with the feel of the float's thick mold lines and the heft of it... all are a constant source of wonder to this float collector.
Photo Credits: The top two photos were taken by Per Einar;
The Three Kveitekulas photo taken by "The Raven" and
The photo of Bruce's Halibut Egg sitting on white is Bruce