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1.18 FAMOUS AMERICAN SILKWORK. Thomas Willis, American (worked 1875-1910), silk embroidery and oil on canvas. This classic Willis silkwork depicts the famous New York Yacht Club steam yacht MIRAGE. The sleek and powerful yacht is seen from the port side underway with the New York Yacht club burgee flying from the jackstaff, the owner's burgee of New York tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt flying from the mast and the American yachting ensign aft. Adding to its fame, the MIRAGE was built by Nathaniel Herreschoff, recognized as the greatest yacht builder in American history! With his typically amazing detail in this delicate medium, Willis shows the helmsman at the wheel with a skylight binnacle leading the way. Two uniformed sailors are on deck and the yacht's captain sits just forward of the mast. The owner (Vanderbilt himself) and another are shown lounging in deck chairs under the canopy aft with a steward in attendance. The vessel name "MIRAGE" is finely embroidered as a nameboard just under the funnel. Many other minute details are present such as the capstan forward, deck fittings, curtained windows, whistle, lifelines, lifeboat and lifering. Signed lower right, "T. Willis." This painting measures 18 by 31 inches sight and is housed in its original ornate gilt frame with gold liner under old wavy glass measuring 25 by 39 inches overall. The frame is exquisite. The oil on canvas painting bears expected age cracilature and there are a few professionally applied reinforcements on the back of the canvas. The silkwork embroidery is in perfect condition with bright colors, no losses and no loose threads. Willis' meticulous stitchery is fully visible on the back. Overall condition can certainly be rated as excellent. Circa 1900. Price Request Special PackagingBack to Top

Undoubtedly this mixed media ship's portrait was personally commissioned of Willis by Mr. Vanderbilt. Cornelius Vanderbilt III (September 5, 1873 - March 1, 1942) was born into the wealthy and powerful Vanderbilt family, the namesake having amassed a fortune expanding American railroads Westward after the Civil War. Called "Neily" by his friends, the younger Vanderbilt did not rest on his grandfather's laurels however. He was a businessman, inventor, engineer, decorated military officer and yachtsman. Yachting was one of Neily Vanderbilt's favorite pastimes which provided him an escape from a busy life that included a seat on the board of directors of several major American corporations. In 1910, he piloted his yacht to victory in the New York Yacht Club's race for the "King Edward VII Cup."

Thomas H. Willis was born in Connecticut in 1850. By 1875 he had perfected a technique of depicting ships using silk thread embroidery. He moved to New York where he found a greater market for his works. He was a contemporary of famous marine artist Antonio Jacobsen and there is evidence that the two artists actually collaborated on some of their ships portraits. Willis' work is publicly displayed in a number of institutions including the Mariner's Museum, Newport News, Virginia, Mystic Seaport Museum, Connecticut and the Peabody Museum of Salem, Massachusetts. Many of his works were signed with the monogram of a conjoined T and W. This painting bears his full signature.

The fast steam yacht MIRAGE was a wooden hull vessel of 75 feet in length displacing 30 gross tons. She was built and launched by Nathaniel G. Herreschoff in his Bristol, Rhode Island yard in 1900. Later in her life the yacht was retrofitted with with gas engines. MIRAGE was still in service as late as 1925 under different ownership. (Lloyd's Register of American Yachts, 1925).



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3.34 AMERICAN WOOD BOWL COMPASS. Genuine, early 2nd quarter of the 19th century American compass made by the noted compass maker "Robert Merrill, New York." as signed around the central pivot. The nicely engraved dry card is divided to 1/2 points of the compass, with the cardinal and intercardinal points identified and North marked by an elaborate fleur-de-lis. The central brass pivot has an agate cap. Indicative of its early origin this compass has a decorated East point, a traditional holdover in early compass making since the Crusaders traveled East during the Middle Ages. Even more remarkable, the compass housing is of turned wood! The compass card measures 6 inches in diameter and is housed in its original green-painted bowl with glazed cover slung in gimbals within the hand-dovetailed pine box measuring 10 inches square and 7 inches high. It appears that the box originally had a hinged lid. Overall condition is excellent. The compass is functional and it gimbals properly. A very nice example of a scarce American wooden bowl compass by the most famous American compass maker of the 19th century. Given the wooden bowl construction and the decorated East point on the card, this compass most certainly dates from the very early beginnings of Merrill's career, circa 1835.  995 Special Packaging

Robert Merrill was born in Newburyport, Massachusetts on April 19, 1804. He was first listed as a "mathematical instrument" maker in the New York City directory of 1835-1836 with a partner, William Davis. Shortly thereafter, in 1838 Merrill struck out on his own as a compass maker at the address 141 Maiden Lane. In 1865 Merrill took his sons into the business. He died in 1876. (Charles Smart, "The Makers of Surveying Instruments in America Since 1700," 1962, Regal Art Press, New York.)

helmsmans view


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6.33  EXCEPTIONAL YACHT CANNON.  “THE” most highly sought after 19th century American yacht signaling cannon “MADE BY H. BROWN & CO. NEW HAVEN CT U.S.A.  LAVIGNE’S  PAT. JULY 31-86” as marked on the top of the breech.  This incredible cannon is unusually large for yachting.  The length of the barrel itself is a full 2 feet with a bore of just under 1 ½ inches!  It is made of solid gun metal bronze and the breech is fitted with a unique closure incorporating a lanyard-fired percussion system.  The cannon is supported in its heavy brass trunnion mounts which allow elevation through a wide range.   The original wooden carriage is made of dense mahogany with brass fittings including 4 rings for securing and numerous acorn nuts.  There are two small wooden wheels for ease of moving this heavy assembly weighing over 100 pounds!   The patented breech block operates smoothly with a tight fit.  The spring-loaded firing pin is released by pulling the remotely-operated hand lanyard which has a stout brass pull ring.  Once fired, the expended shell is removed by the finger shell extractor.  As an added bonus this cannon comes with a custom-made knurled aluminum insert which allows the cannon to be fired with a much smaller 10 gauge shotgun shell.  27 ¼ inches long and 30 inches overall.  It stands 11 inches high.  Excellent original condition in all respects.  The cannon and its fittings have acquired a lovely statuary bronze age patina.Price Request Special PackagingBack to Top

The R. H. Brown Company began business in New Haven, Connecticut in 1888 manufacturing yachting and signaling cannons.   After a relatively brief but illustrious career, the company closed its operations in 1912, the same year as the infamous TITANIC disaster.  

The unique lanyard percussion firing system offered here was the invention of J.P. Lavigne, who was awarded a U.S. Patent for his design in 1886.  The cannon is fired by pulling a lanyard, which releases the spring-loaded firing pin into the charge.  This design eliminated the need for cocking prior to firing.  Another innovative aspect was the swivel breech block which allowed simple closure of the breech without locking as required by other cannons of the period.  Both of these features combined to allow rapidity of firing as well as providing an additional measure of safety for the cannoneer.





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13.75 CAPTAIN's CABIN CLOCK and BAROMETER SET. Genuine 19th century ship's clock and barometer set consisting of a handsome 9 inch diameter clock together with a 9 1/2 inch diameter barometer/thermometer -- both in beautiful "rope" carved wooden cases. The quality clock has a white enameled zinc dial, bold Roman numerals, steel spade hands, large inset seconds bit and two winding arbors. The hinged brass bezel opens and closes with a press fit affording easy access for winding and setting. The all brass 8-day movement is stamped "Ansonia Clock Co., U.S.A." and keeps good time, having just been professionally serviced. The back of the clock case bears the remnants of the old Ansonia label. The equally handsome barometer has an ornate white dial calibrated in inches from 27.8 to 31.2 in 2/100th increments and bears the standard weather indications "STORMY, RAIN, FAIR,' etc. Below is a curved mercury thermometer calibrated in both Fahrenheit and Centigrade. The barometer bears a large black indicator needle overlain by a brass "set" needle attached to a knurled brass knob. The dial is protected by its original thick beveled glass crystal set in a brass bezel. Both the barometer and thermometer function properly. Telling of this set's use aboard ship, both the clock and barometer have their original brass hanging brackets at the 12 and 6 o'clock positions to firmly secure them to the bulkhead. In addition, the barometer has wind indications marked on its dial, as expected of an instrument used at sea. This is a very elegant 19th century set that likely graced a Captain's cabin. Price Request Special PackagingBack to Top


clock back

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16.83  TERRESTRIAL GLOBE.  Genuine 19th century world globe made by the respected French makers LeBegue & Cie as signed in the maker’s cartouche near the equator in the Eastern Pacific, “GLOBE TERRESTRE J. Lebegue & Cie., Editeurs, 36, Rue de Lille, 36, Paris.”  This 10 inch diameter globe is made in the traditional manner using a plaster of Paris sphere overlaid by chromolithographed paper “gores.”  As expected from these noted makers, the detail is exquisite showing countries, major cities and topographical features such as mountains, lakes, and rivers, along with ocean currents, major trade routes and of course the equator and Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn.  Interestingly, the continent of Antarctica, yet to be discovered, is not shown, as is the north of Greenland.    This globe is supported by its most charming original cast iron stand in antique bronze finish with lion paw feet decorated with mascaroons.  The top of the globe is crowned by a nice brass acorn finial.   18 inches high overall.  The condition is generally excellent.  The surface of the globe is original and bright with no evidence of restoration.  There are a few minor scuffs and discolorations expected of an object such as this over 120 years old.  But if anything the condition adds to the appearance of this antique which is circa 1890. Price Request Special PackagingBack to Top 

J. Lebègue & Cie, Paris are listed as “Publishers late nineteenth century.”  (Elly Dekker and Peter van der Kroght, “Globes From The Western World,” 1993, Zwemmer, Philip Wilson Publishers, Ltd., London).

europe & Africa


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 AUTHENTIC LIGHTHOUSE.   This is the ultimate!  Here is an exceptional opportunity to own a very historic relic of America’s rich maritime heritage embodied in the original lamp room from the famous Ballast Point Lighthouse, which served its sentinel duties in the channel of San Diego Bay from 1890 until 1960.  This incredibly well-preserved piece of history was built according to specifications laid out by the U.S. Lighthouse Service in 1885.  A copy of the original specifications are included as are much printed references and photographs.  Erected in 1890, the 5th Order lighthouse was a significant aid to navigation in conjunction with the Point Loma Lighthouse (1850) poised at the entrance to San Diego Bay.   Ballast Point Light was situated further inside the massive bay on a point which jutted into the seaway which posed a hazard to shipping.  13 feet 10 inches high with a maximum width of 8 feet 8 inches.  Weight approximately 5 tons. It will require a crane and a flat bed truck for transport.  127 years old! Price Request Special PackagingBack to Top

Serious inquiries only please.  No telephone quotes.  This item has been nominated as a candidate for the National Historic Register, and is currently being considered by a number of museums, private lighthouse restoration groups and the U.S. Navy.   Clear title is guaranteed.  Please provide your qualifications for ownership and your intentions for use.  We reserve the right to select a deserving owner.   We have already soundly rejected a low ball offer of $25,000 – that being the original price of the lamp room in 1890!   A single 5th Order light house lens recently sold for $125,000.  This is the entire lamp room, much rarer, and probably the only one of its kind to ever be for sale again!


On October 2, 1888, recognizing the need for a harbor light in the increasingly congested channel of San Diego Bay, Congress authorized $25,000 for the construction of a lighthouse to be built on Ballast Point.  Fashioned in the late Victorian style, the entire structure took 3 months to build beginning in March 1890.  The light was first lit on August 1st.  It was a sister of the lights at San Luis Obispo and Table Bluff, south of Humboldt Bay.  All were wood framed structures with attached living quarters.  The ironwork for the lantern was forged in San Francisco and carried south to San Diego by ship.  The French firm of Sautter, Lemmonier, & Cie. manufactured the Freznel lens for the Ballast Point Light in 1886.  The fixed 5th Order lens was visible for a distance of at least 11 miles.
When California was still part of Mexico the peninsula jutting into San Diego Bay was known as Punta del los Guijarros or “Pebble Point.”  For centuries cobblestones washed down by the San Diego River had been deposited on the point.  When California gained statehood in 1850 the point was renamed Middle Ground Shoal.  As time went on and merchant traffic in the harbor increased, many sailing ships found it convenient to load or discharge the stones as ballast.  The practice continued and eventually the name “Ballast Point” stuck.
Accompanying the Ballast Point lighthouse was a huge 2,000 pound fog bell in a wooden tower.  In 1928 it was supplanted by a single tone electric diaphone horn.

The first keeper of the light was John M. Nilsson, assigned duty on July 15, 1890.  The second was Henry Hall, who took the job on December 1, 1892.  Perhaps the most famous keeper was Irish born David R. Splaine, a Civil War veteran and veteran lighthouse keeper, who assumed the post in 1894, having served at Point Conception, the Farallons and San Diego’s own Point Loma light from 1886-1889.

In 1913 the original old kerosene lamp was replaced with an acetylene burner.  Acetylene gave way to electricity in 1928.  In 1938 a filter was fitted inside the 5th Order Freznel lens giving the light a distinctive green hue for recognition.  One of the last keepers of the light was Radford Franke who recalled receiving the order to “douse the light” upon the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

By early 1960 the light was deemed to be of no further service, so in June of that year the lantern room was removed to a salvage yard.  The wooden tower and its brick and mortar foundation remained a couple of years later until they too were declared structurally unsafe and demolished.  The bell tower continued to survive, mounted with a 375 mm high intensity lamp on its roof.  However the value of maintaining any light on Ballast Point diminished with the installation of harbor entrance range lights.  In the late 1960’s the bell and its tower were dismantled.  The tower found its way to a private residence in Lakeside, California.  The bell had a more circuitous later life.  It was purchased from a San Diego area junk yard in 1969 for its scrap value of 5 cents per pound!  The one ton bell remained on local private property until 1991, when it was put on loan to the San Diego Maritime Museum.  In 1999 the bell was transported to the son of the original buyer, living in Colorado.  Then in 2002, the bell finally found its way to the home of the owner’s granddaughter living in Vermont, where it rests to this day.
The story of the lantern’s later life is even more fascinating.  The nation was just recovering from the Cuban Missile Crisis between JFK and Khrushchev, when in 1964 the Cuban government cut off the fresh water supply to the U.S. Naval base at Guantanamo Bay.  By that time, an experimental desalinization plant had been in operation at Point Loma for 2 years.  The Navy hastily ordered it to be disassembled and shipped through the Panama Canal to Cuba.  A gentleman working as a crane operator during the process noted the shabby lantern room in a trash heap nearby.  He inquired as to the fate of the relic and was told it was salvage.  Asking if he could purchase it,  the yard foreman told him he could “have it” if he would haul it away.  With that, for the next 34 years the lantern room served as a gazebo in the backyard of the man’s residence in Bonita, California.  It was purchased by the present owners in 1998, fully refurbished, and then placed on public display ever since.  Now it is time for it to find its next new home.  According to the crane operator who delivered the lamp room it weighs approximately 5 tons.  It will require a crane and a flat bed truck for removal.

F. Ross Holland, “The Old Point Loma Lighthouse,” 1978, Cabrillo Historical Association, San Diego, California
Jim Gibbs, “The Twilight of Lighthouses,” 1996, Schiffer Publishing, Atglen, PA.
Kin Fahlen and Karen Scanlon, “Lighthouse of San Diego,” 2008, Arcadia Publishing, San Francisco
Kraig Anderson, “Forgotten Ballast Point “Lighthouse” Seeks New Home,” article in “Lighthouse Digest,” East Machias, Maine,  September – October 2011,  Vol. XX, no. 5 pages 34 – 37.
“Mains’l Haul,” a periodic publication of the San Diego Maritime Association, Summer 1990, Vol. XXVI,  No. 4, pp. 11-12.







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