We’ve been doing a lot of decorating in our new home, but I’m still looking for the perfect place to display my signal flag. This flag came straight off a ship, and is a natural fiber flag. Today, most ships use signal flags made of synthetic material, making the fiber flags more difficult to come by. I bought this flag at a nautical salvage store in Galveston last August.
Nautical salvage warehouses and stores are an excellent place to hunt for unique beach cottage, coastal, and nautical decor. My first look at the world of nautical salvage was in an issue of Country Living Magazine Michael’s aunt shared with me. The article was about Nautical Antiques and Tropical Decor in Galveston, Texas. The store is located at 2202 Ship Mechanic Road in downtown Galveston. As soon as I read the article, I knew I had to visit this store! Michael and I made a day trip to Galveston from Houston this past summer to check out this amazing supplier of all things nautical.
Visiting Nautical Antiques and Tropical Decor was like stepping into a maritime museum. Below is a picture of the entrance to the store. We were greeted by glowing ship lanterns and a large ship’s wheel.
Where do all these treasures come from? The owners of Nautical Antiques and Tropical Decor get their merchandise from ship and nautical salvage yards around the world. According to their website, they also spend a month every year visiting ship breaking yards and chandleries in Asia and the Near East. A little research on the internet, and now I know that ship breaking yards are like auto salvage lots. They are places where ship demolition occurs and reusable or recyclable parts are sold as scraps. According to Wikipedia, ship breaking is “one of the world’s most dangerous industries,” especially in poorer countries that lack strict environmental regulations. Many of the ships that reach the yards were used to transport oil, toxic chemicals, hazardous waste, and radioactive materials. Asia is home to most of the world’s ship breaking yards. Interestingly, there are two far less common alternatives to ship breaking. After the dangerous materials are extracted from the ship, it can simply be sunk in deep ocean waters, or dropped to the bottom of the sea to create an artificial reef.
Now what are chandleries? I definitely had to look this word up! In modern times, a chandlery is a store that sells supplies, including food, to ships bound for the open water. Chandlerlies are located along wharves and in seaports. The dealer or owner of a chandlery is called a chandler. The word comes from medieval times when a chandlery referred to candle and soap-making shops. Before the sea became a major mode of transportation for goods, the chandleries were simply storerooms for soap, wax, paint, oil, and other supplies needed for ship travel. In the 1800s, they turned into supply stores for sea-bound vessels. Chandleries continue to serve this purpose today.
Here is a picture of a restored 19th century chandlery I found on Wikipedia. It reminds me of the inside of Nautical Antiques and Tropical Decor.
I imagine the modern-day chandleries the owners of Nautical Antiques and Tropical Decor visit in Asia may look like the one in the photograph below. This chandlery is located in Bangladesh. Photo courtesy of Jashim Uddin.
Now that you have an understanding of where Nautical Antiques and Tropical Decor finds its treasures, I’ll show you what we found when we explored the store. They have an enormous variety of ship salvage and decor in all price ranges. I was overwhelmed and giddy with excitement when we first walked in. The store is housed in an old warehouse with wood floors, and it feels like you’re in a real chandlery. Their terrific selection of blown glass fishing floats was literally stacked to the ceiling and coming out of the walls! We couldn’t believe how many they had.
The large green salvaged floats in the pictures above were $40 each. According to the Nautical Antiques website, the blown glass floats were used from the 1800’s to the 1960’s; after that, they were replaced by plastic floats. I picked out a small sea foam green glass float from the bin below, and it is now part of the decor on our spa cover! I love the way the wooden crate looks filled with fishing floats.
I was particularly interested in their collection of ship’s china. Nautical Antiques has a large variety of vintage china salvaged from old cruise ships.
All the ship’s china is catalogued with details of the cruise liner it came from and the years it was used in the dining quarters.
I selected the cup and saucer sets below that were used on an Italian passenger ship in the 1970’s because of the unique manufacturer’s logo on the bottom. The porcelain sets were made in Italy. It’s really neat to have a set of vintage coffee cups that were once used on an Italian cruise ship.
The store had a large array of portholes which could be used to make mirrors and windows, or hung as wall decor.
For a house with a pool, the salvaged life preservers would look great hanging on a wall near the water.
The picture above shows some of the store’s “high end” salvage offerings, including EOTs (Engine Order Telegraphs used to send speed and direction signals on board ships), wheels, and spotlights.
In addition to the salvaged merchandise, the store offers a fun selection of new tropical and coastal decor, including wall hangings, driftwood, mirrors, and figures.
Michael found the perfect signal flag for me. They have a vast assortment of salvaged fiber signal flags and pennants in a variety of lengths and colors. The store also provides a guide so you can match your flag with the International Code of Signals. My flag is a number flag that corresponds with the number four.
Our trip to Galveston to visit Nautical Antiques and Tropical Decor was a memorable Texas day trip. We drove around the island for a little while after our shopping expedition and caught a glimpse of a Carnival cruise ship docked at the port.
Before heading back to Houston, we stopped for a late lunch at Miller’s Seawall Grill. They make a tasty mac and cheese, and I also enjoyed their fried shrimp. Our waitress was very friendly, and their prices were reasonable.
Nautical Antiques and Tropical Decor is only a 40 minute drive from downtown Houston. If you go in the summer, dress lightly; the warehouse is not air conditioned. We were fortunate to have been there on an overcast and rainy day, so the heat was less oppressive. I think the lack of air conditioning only added to the authenticity of the salvage store. We could have been in a chandlery in Bangladesh, just blocks away from a ship breaking yard! If you want to add some nautical and coastal touches to your home, I highly recommend a visit to this store. Even if your home is not full of coral, glass bottles, and seashells, it is still worth the stop to hold a piece of maritime history in your hands. The staff were very knowledgeable, friendly, and helpful. They even offered to telephone me when the next shipment of salvaged lobster traps arrives (a salvaged lobster trap is the holy grail for my beach cottage home). You can visit their website here. Check the website and call ahead before your visit for hours and inventory updates. They sometimes close for buying trips.
Nautical Antiques and Tropical Decor
2202 Ship Mechanic Row
Galveston, Texas 77550