Dramatic view of the first Minots Ledge Light

Lithograph, 12 ½”h x 9 ½”w at neat line plus title and margins, uncolored. Washed, with residual discoloration from old staining, more noticeable at lower right corner.

A rare and rather dramatic lithographic view of the first Minots Ledge Light off the Massachusetts coast, constructed in 1850 and destroyed little over a year later. 

Minots Ledge is a fully-submerged ledge a mile off the coasts of Cohasset and Scituate, Massachusetts. After lighthouse inspector Isaiah William Penn Lewis reported that over 40 ships had been lost on the ledge between 1832 and 1841 alone, a move was made to build the first lighthouse there. The result was Minots Ledge Light, an “iron pile light” consisting of a spidery steel framework drilled into the ledge, supporting a storage platform, keeper’s quarters and the light itself. The lighthouse operated for less than 16 months before being demolished by a storm on April 16, 1851, with the loss of the two keepers present at the time. A new lighthouse was not completed until 1860 and still operates today.

This anonymous print, published in late 1851 or early 1852 by Thomas O. Walker of Boston, depicts the Minots Ledge Light in its dramatic, dangerous natural setting. A large wave crashes at its base, while the Stars and Stripes waving in a stiff breeze and a vessel in the far distance sails safely past. The print describes the lighthouse:

“First lighted Jan. 1st 1850. Destroyed in the gale of April 16th 1851. Height, 75 feet—Breadth of Base, 25 feet—Diameter of Piles, 8 in. at the base and 4 ½ at top.”

The only identifying information is the imprint of obscure publisher Thomas O. Walker, located at 68 Cornhill, Boston. OCLC lists perhaps ten imprints by Walker, mostly poetry and children’s books issued between 1841 and 1859, with this is the sole lithograph credited to him.

The print is extremely rare, and I find examples only at the Boston Public Library and Boston Athenaeum. RareBookHub lists only a single example having appeared on the antiquarian market, offered by Goodspeed’s in 1933 for $10.

It is worth noting that the view was poached by E.C. Kellogg and Ensign, Thayer & Co., who jointly issued a far-less-appealing knockoff. The “softness” of their image, characteristic of so much of popular lithography at the time, somehow trivializes and sentimentalizes the lighthouse, which despite its short service life was an impressive engineering achievement in extremely difficult conditions.

OCLC 57744801, giving only the Boston Athenaeum example (August 2021).