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Fourth Order Lighthouse Lens

Fourth order Barbier & Fenestre lighthouse lens. Cut crystal segments are fitted to bronze frames. Hinged lantern door with original latch. Base is fancifully engraved: Barbier & Fenestre, Constructeurs, Paris 1881. Crown jewel of a relic. Condition: several damaged crystals, some chipping. 26 1/2" tall x 20" wide.

Estimate: 40,000 - 60,000


Fourth Order Fresnel Lens

Fourth order Fresnel lenses are used in major harbor lights which lead the mariner into the channel at the entrance of a harbor mouth. Frequently also used on rivers, lakes and harbors to mark reefs, shoals and islands. Fourth order lenses are popular on pier lights and lighthouses on the Great Lakes, especially Michigan.


Great Lakes: Eagle Harbor, Crisp Point, Marquette Harbor (all have 4th order).


Focal Length: 250mm

Radius: 9.8in

Height: 28.43in

Weight: 441 to 661 lbs


Fresnel lenses were classified into several orders depending on size and power. The location and importance of a particular lighthouse determined which order lens was placed there. A first-order lens was used in major navigational aids, like Barnegat, while the slightly smaller second-order would be used for coastal landfalls where the intensity of the larger lens was not necessary. At harbor entrances, inlets large bays, or lakes, a third-order lens would be positioned, while the smaller fourth and fifth-orders were used as range lights or as leading lights. The smallest sixth-order lights were used to mark shoals, bays, and channels. Eventually the Lighthouse Service used 3 1/2 and 6 1/2 order lenses and the extremely powerful Hyper-radial first order. Makapuu, Hawaii was one of the few lighthouses in the United States that used this last lens type.


Barbier & Fenestre (Paris, 1881)

Nicolas Frédéric Désiré Barbier, known as Frédéric, graduated from the “Ecole Centrale de Paris” as an engineer.  He formed a partnership with Monsieur Stanislas Tranquille Fenestre in 1860 and they formed a company on October 6, 1862 to produce lighthouse equipment including Fresnel lenses, lamps, clockworks and many other devices.  The new company took the name of its founders, Barbier and Fenestre.  A small factory was created in an outbuilding of the land owned by Monsieur Barbier located at 82 Curial Street in the 19th district of Paris.  By late 1862, the first products had been shipped and the outbuilding had grown into the head office as well as the manufacturing location of the company; operations continued there for many years.


Barbier and Fenestre became the third French manufacturer of lighthouse equipment then in operation, the others were Louis Sautter and Henry-Lepaute.  The competition was fierce and the company soon recognized the necessity of manufacturing all of the constituent elements for a complete lighthouse, including the tower, lantern, clockwork and other equipment, to assure that all of the elements within the lighthouse worked together flawlessly and were of the best possible construction.  Providing the complete design package also assisted the capabilities of Barbier & Fenestre to sell its products to the various lighthouse services around the world and to have a product line that could meet and surpass its competition.


Barbier and Fenestre produced its first lens for America, a 4th order fixed lens for the South West Reef lighthouse, in 1862.  This was followed by more than 435 additional lenses delivered to the United States Lighthouse Service over the next fifty years.


Barbier and Fenestre first began to look into the development of lenses with a larger focal length in 1872 at the request of John R. Wigham in Ireland.  Wigham needed a long focal length lens (bigger than the 1st order) to allow his 108-jet gas burner to deliver the most light to the horizon.  Some five years later, in 1877, Wigham went to Barbier and Fenestre and was shown the first drawings of his proposed ‘Hyper-radial’ lens. However, Wigham did not have the political power to get his Hyper-radial lens design actually produced.  The Commissioners of Irish Lights were not able or willing to fund this costly new lens design.  Finally in 1885, Thomas Stevenson, Engineer of the Northern Lighthouse Board in Scotland, suggested that a larger lens would be useful with the new, larger oil burners being designed by James Douglass for the Trinity House in England.  Stevenson and Douglass had political power and both the French and English lens manufacturers were soon given official orders for the Hyper-radial lens.   F. Barbier was the first lens manufacturer to produce a Hyper-radial lens panel in late 1885 for the trials then going on at the South Foreland Lighthouse. In all BBT is thought to have produced 14 Hyper-radial lenses.  It produced the only Hyper-radial lens used in America, a fixed lens at Makapu’u Point, Hawaii.  Barbier also produced the only ‘Giant Lens’ for John Wigham in Ireland in 1892.  This lens had a radius of 2000mm or almost one and a half times the size of the Hyper-radial lens.


In the 1880s, Barbier and Fenestre bought the exclusive European rights to the Courtenay Whistling Buoy from J. M. Courtenay in America.  It produced variations of the Courtenay buoy for more than fifty years.


Stanislas T. Fenestre died in 1887 and the company name was changed to Barbier et Cie. They also used F. Barbier on their nameplates during this period.  Note: Nicolas Barbier apparently did not like to use the name Nicolas and mostly used only his second initial ‘F’ or Frédéric.  The company remained at 82 Rue Curial in Paris.


Barbier et Cie. was short lived.  Frédéric Barbier had four daughters and his daughter Louise married Joseph Bénard in 1890.  Monsieur Bénard joined the firm and the company name was changed to Barbier and Bénard by early 1894.


Paul Turenne joined the firm in 1897.  He married another of Barbier’s daughters, Lucie, in 1901.  The company then became known as Barbier, Bénard & Turenne.  The three letters (BBT) were first used in 1901, although the complete company name, Barbier, Bénard et Turenne, continued to be used on the company’s lens stampings and nameplates.  As the years passed, the letters BBT came to symbolize the firm and its products.  An interesting side note is that the French lighthouse authorities often referred to BBT as “La Bebete,” which means “the childish” in French.


A second factory was created in 1907 at Blanc-Misseron in the north of France, specializing in metal and mechanical parts.  This was the largest of the BBT factories and had over 700 employees.  The products produced at this location included lens frames, all styles of lamps, clockworks, lanterns and buoys. Blanc-Misseron also produced equipment for use in mines, chemical companies, and the aggregate business.  It performed all of the work with metal casting, shaping, and assembly and later it specialized in facilities for the separation and production of various industrial gases.  At the same time, the smaller factory in Paris with 250 workers became dedicated to the construction of Fresnel lenses and other optical equipment for lighthouses.  BBT purchased all of the glass used in its Fresnel lenses from Saint Gobain Glass in a preformed, although rough, state and then did the final polishing and assembly operations in its Paris factory.


BBT chose to specialize each of its factories on one group of products.  This allowed each factory to dedicate the training and increase the skills of workers and allowed for the specialization of machinery at each location.


In 1918 the Société Anonyme des Anciens Etablissements Barbier, Bénard et Turenne was formed.  This was the legal equivalent to the formation of an American corporation.


In 1921, a third factory was added at Aubervilliers, known as “La Commanderie,” which employed over 300 workers who constructed motors for the rotation of the lenses and for rotation of the parabolic mirrors used in beacons and spotlights.  This factory also produced sound detectors for the French Army used to locate airplanes.  It also produced Oxygen gas for many uses.


In 1928, BBT bought SIEGH, the “International Oil-gas Lighting Company.”  The combined company produced dissolved acetylene at the Blanc-Misseron factory and other gases that BBT sold for maritime lighting.


By about 1930, more than two hundred special glass grinding machines were employed in the Paris factory to cut and polish the lens prisms and dioptric elements for lighthouses.  Forty other machines constructed by BBT were used for the shaping of Mangin Mirrors having a diameter up to 2.5 meters that were used in searchlights and aero beacons as well as in lighthouse illumination.


In 1934, BBT bought the Krauss Company from the Leica Company in Germany.  Krauss had been founded in 1882 and was a well-known maker of binoculars and microscopes.  BBT formed a subsidiary company with the name BBT-Krauss, which continued to produce the former Krauss products along with a number of specialized military and aviation optical products.


In 1935, another factory was created at Nazelles, France. It was a specialized factory that took over all operations from the Paris factory for the grinding of glass for mirrors used in searchlights, for the optics of lighthouses, and for lighting devices used in hospital operating rooms.  It also performed the machining of large precision metal products such as mercury bath castings and other elements of Fresnel lens pedestals.  This plant also manufactured pressed glass lenses for buoys and other lighting devices.  At this time the Paris factory was reduced to just the final assembly of Fresnel lenses, laboratories for research in electronics and sound, and the main office and sales function of the company.


By the 1960s the company was producing electronic equipment such as RADAR and infrared sensors for the military, mining and mineral handling equipment, and optical instruments for use in medicine.


BBT was the last French manufacturer of Fresnel lenses.  However, by about 1965, the last large Fresnel lens had been produced at BBT.  BBT continued to produce small buoy lenses and began to produce acrylic lenses at this time.


In 1968, BBT was formally split into two companies:  BBT - Paris, which operated the factories in Paris, Nazelles and Aubervilliers and BBT - Valencienne, which operated only the Blanc-Misseron factory.  BBT also owned a number of subsidiary companies or licensed its products to other companies across the world such as:


BBT Corporation in America - formed in 1928

Scialytic Corporation in America - formed in 1928

Industrielle Boraine (IB) in Belgium - formed in 1928

Technical Lights and Equipment (TLE) in England - formed in 1930

Segnalamento Maritimo ed Aero (SMA) in Italy - formed in 1945

Beaconing Optical Precision Materials (BOP) in Canada - formed in 1948

Micronal in Brazil - formed in 1954

Alumbrado BBT in Spain - formed in 1964

On December 26, 1976 the glass grinding and polishing plant at Nazelles burnt down and the BBT production capability in this area was dramatically reduced.


In 1981, CIT ALCATEL, a French conglomerate, bought BBT and began to split up the various parts of the company.  It decided not to continue the navigation aids business and in 1984 it began to look for a buyer for this segment.  A year later, the French Minister of Marine requested that part of the French Government’s export activities in the area of navigation aids be privatized.  This was accomplished by forming a new company named GISMAN, which absorbed the French Government operations and the navigation aids business of CIT ALCATEL (formerly BBT).


The new company’s head offices remained at 82 Rue Curial in Paris and in 1990 the company became Samtec-GISMAN, which still produces navigation buoys.  In 2001, Samtec-GISMAN, moved its offices west into Brittany and the operations in Paris moved to 85 Avenue de Neuilly, which became a sales office only.

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