Extremely Rare Joseph Francis Corrugated Metallic Life Boat

American, mid-19th century. A metallic life boat constructed of stamped and riveted corrugated sheet metal with air chambers at bow and stern, manufactured by Stillman, Allen & Co Novelty Iron Works of New York, including a patent label reading STILLMAN, ALLEN & CO / NOVELTY IRON WORKS / NEW-YORK / JOSEPH FRANCIS / PATENT 1845 (referring to patent US3974 A)

Joseph Francis (1801-1893) was an inventor who is best known today for his invention of the Life Car, a life-saving marine vehicle that could be dispatched from shore to a foundering ship. He spent a lifetime improving the construction of marine life-saving equipment to better serve the Navy, the US Life-Saving Service (now the Coast Guard), then in its infancy, as well as merchant and passenger ships. His advances in life-saving technology were so valuable that by 1841 nearly all merchant and government vessels out of New York were outfitted with his life boats. In 1888, Congress saw fit to award Francis a Congressional Gold Medal to be presented to him as "Inventor and Framer of the Means for the Life Saving Services of the Country."

Based on the size of this vessel, it is possible that this served as one of Francis' Life-Cars. At just over 12 feet long, it falls short of the usual 20-30 feet typical of his ocean-faring surf boats. However, throughout his career, Francis fashioned a variety of boats using his patented method stamping corrugated sheets of metal including barges, whaleboats, and sailboats. As the boat appears to have been heavily modified, and is missing its signature top, we cannot say with certainty that this is a Life-Car.

Buker, George E. The Metal Life Car: The Inventor, the Impostor, and the Business of Lifesaving. The University of Alabama Press, 2008.

Provenance:From the Meakin Maritime Collection


Boat has been repainted and modified, some paint is chipping.


Please contact cleveland@cowans.com for condition inquiries.

Please note that a condition report is only an opinion, given as a courtesy, and should not be treated as a statement of fact. Cowan's Auctions shall have no responsibility for any error or omission.

Estimate: $3,500 - $5,000
Price Realized Including Buyer's Premium


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