Collector's Corner: Ocean Liner Memorabilia
By Michele Alice
Humans have been travelling by boat for millennia, but it was not until 1818 that the James Monroe, an American packet ship, initiated the age of scheduled departures. To attract passengers, advertised accommodations were upgraded from the dismal standards of the "coffin brigs" of the day, and it was not long before dozens of fleets were plying the Atlantic to satisfy the subsequent demand.
By the time the Lusitania and Mauritania (Cunard Line sister ships) were launched in 1907, steam had long since replaced sail, the screw propeller had succeeded the paddle wheel, and accommodations vied with those of the best hotels of the day. It was the Golden Age of the Ocean Liner.
But civilization continued to progress (at least, technologically), and by the 1960s, the increasingly faster and cheaper competition from the airline industry had swamped many of the ocean line companies. Most of the great vessels were either converted to cruise ships, dockside museums or hotels, or sold for scrap, and, today, only Cunard Line's new Queen Mary II still serves the transatlantic routes.
Due, in part, to James Cameron's 1997 movie Titanic, there has been a resurgence in interest in the great liners and in ocean liner memorabilia. Interest has, in fact, been so intense that in 2003 Norwegian Cruise Line bought the SS United States, moored in Philadelphia since 1996, with an eye to putting her back into service.
When a ship was to be retrofitted or decommissioned, it would very often be stripped of everything possible and all the items would be auctioned off. Ocean liner memorabilia can thus run the gamut from ashtrays, dinner plates, and linen to larger items like deck chairs, stateroom furniture, and ships' bells.
Windmill Point Restaurant in North Carolina has an SS United States Lounge furnished with items purchased at the 1984 auction of the United States' contents. These include the kidney-shaped bar from the first-class salon, ballroom tables and chairs, and the aluminum sculptures by artist Austin Purves commissioned for the ship.
Of course, the "greater" the ship, the more desirable its memorabilia. The Big U, as the United States is affectionately called, is one of the more popular, and dozens of items are listed on online auctions at any one time. (Hint: on eBay, searches with SS and S.S. will yield two different results.)
The most collectible items are, of course, associated with the ill-fated White Star liner Titanic. A prime example recently was a luncheon menu that was appraised on The Antiques Roadshow for $75,000 to $100,000! (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/roadshow/series/highlights/2004/favorites). The menu had been found on the back of a painting purchased in an antique shop. (I never give up hope that such a "find" will someday come my way.)
But while many collectors concentrate on a single ship or shipping line, many others select a category such as postcards, models, luggage tags, deck plans, menus, magazine ads, posters, photographs, and home movies - just to name a very few. An inexpensive place to start is the Cunard Line website http://www.cunard.com/default.asp where you can request free brochures of the Queen Mary 2 and Queen Elizabeth 2 (now a cruise ship).
For more information on ocean liners and ocean liner memorabilia, try these resources:
"The Fabulous Interiors of the Great Ocean Liners in Historic Photographs," by William H. Miller, Jr.
"Ocean Liner Collectibles," by Myra Yellin Outwater, Eric Boe Outwater
"Ocean Liner Postcards in Marine Art," by Robert Wall
Duke University site exhibits "images and database information for over 7,000 advertisements printed in U.S. and Canadian newspapers and magazines between 1911 and 1955." Browse "ships" in the Travel section.
Graphic Design from the 1920s and 1930s in Travel Ephemera
Nautical section offers some 120 images of art deco period liner brochures from around the world.
The Great Ocean Liners
This highly informative site offers detailed ship histories, comparison chart, links, more.
German site (a few sections in English). Check out the sheet music page for such gems as "Take Me Back to Yankee Land" and "My Sweetheart Went Down with the Ship"!
"Ocean liner history and cruise ship news." Check out their "Index of Ships" and links to "Maritime Museums on the Web."
Royal Regals - a History of Ocean Liners
Valuable links page.
The Titanic Historical Society, Inc.
Official website. Founded in 1963, the Society maintains a large collection of original artifacts at their museum in Indian Orchard, Massachusetts.
Vintage Labels - The Lost Art of Travel and the History of the Luggage Label
Wonderful site has just about everything for the collector of labels including grading, dating, image gallery, more.
About the author:
Michele Alice is EcommerceBytes Update Contributing Editor. Michele is a freelance writer in the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts. She collects books, science fiction memorabilia and more! Email her at makalice @ adelphia.net eBay ID: Malice9
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