James L. Watson Glass Fishing Float Collection

Photo courtesy of Chris Hager, Board of Directors, February 17, 2024.

Jim Watson (1944-2002) was one of the world’s leading collectors of Japanese glass fishing floats. He found his first float walking on the beach near his home in Hawaii, a marvelous lavender float the size of a basketball. Jim’s life was changed, and he found his calling: to seek out the rarest glass fishing floats he could find, and share their beauty and history with the world. He dreamed of one day having his vast collection displayed in a museum.

These glass treasures have been a part of North Lincoln County history for nearly as long as white people have lived in the area. Beachcombing for floats was a huge draw for tourists throughout the 20th century. The way that the Pacific ocean currents carry objects meant the oldest and rarest floats made their way to Oregon, Washington, and Hawaii, while more common floats ended up in Alaska and Canada. Jim moved to Neskowin, and began working with NLCHM in the 90s. He gave many presentations on the history of glass float production, use, and collecting. Here is a presentation he gave at NLCHM in May 2000:

After Jim’s passing in 2002, his family established the James L. Watson Fishing Float Foundation to hold his collection. NLCHM is proud to become a permanent home for the most significant pieces from Jim’s collection, to share these one-of-a-kind glass fishing floats, and to continue Jim’s educational work!

This exhibit was made possible by a generous donation from the James L. Watson Fishing Float Foundation, and the support of Mrs. Diana Watson and Georgia Watson. This exhibit was curated in partnership with Dr. Nicklis Simpson, DMD. This exhibit is open from February 2024 – February 2025, in the main exhibit hall on the ground floor.

Watson Exhibit Opening & Float ID Day

Jim Watson was one of the world’s leading collectors of Japanese glass fishing floats. He traveled throughout the world meeting fishermen, artisans, and collectors, seeking out the most unique pieces he could find. He taught many people about the history and beauty of these unparalleled working objects.

North Lincoln County Historical Museum (NLCHM) has had one of the largest collections of Japanese glass fishing floats on the Oregon coast, largely due to Jim Watson’s contributions throughout the years. With the aim of continuing his mission, the James L. Watson Fishing Float Foundation donated the last remaining pieces from Jim’s personal collection to NLCHM in 2023.This exhibit will show a selection of his rarest pieces, which have not been seen for over twenty years.

This new exhibit, in honor of Jim Watson’s legacy, will be available to see in the main hall at NLCHM through 2024. There will be a selection of floats, photo slide shows on our iPad kiosk, historical information about the floats, and clips from a presentation he gave at the museum in 2000. The opening reception will take place on February 17th, from 1PM – 3:30PM. We will play the full video of his presentation, starting at 2PM (Total running time: 1 hour 34 min).

The following weekend, February 24th, 2024, 12PM – 3PM, in tandem with Lincoln City’s Antique Week, NLCHM will be hosting our very popular Float ID Day! Community members are invited to bring in their own glass fishing floats to talk with experts, and learn how to identify these special treasures. Dr. Nicklis Simpson, DMD, and other well known float collectors and aficionados will be in attendance to help visitors learn the history of their floats. We’re very excited to see what you bring in!

New Exhibit – Kid’s Point of View

We’ve finished installing the panels for Kid’s Point of View – A brand new permanent exhibit with interactive panels throughout the museum. Thanks to a generous donation from the Lincoln County Cultural Coalition, we were able to purchase permanent swinging panel boards, and pay for printing to install this new interactive exhibit designed for kids.

The 80 panels have stories from different people who grew up in North Lincoln County, highlighting experiences and memories unique to being a kid in the 1890s – 1940s growing up in Rose Lodge, Taft, Nelscott, Siletz, etc. These stories are paired with images of the speaker, and locations, people, and objects that they are remembering. Each story is displayed in English and Spanish, making this our very first exhibit that is entirely bilingual!