Nazi Cruising Treat. A guest post by John G. Sayers

If you work for a large corporation – particularly in a Sales capacity – you will probably be familiar with incentive programs. They are not unique to the corporate world, and an interesting historical example is the Strength Through Joy travel programs offered in Nazi Germany during the 1930s.

Global tourism was in recession, and in order to maintain German tourist resources – and jobs – a series of travel incentives were offered through the Strength Through Joy movement. My understanding is that low-priced domestic tourism was available to the Party faithful as a reward for their support and contributions. The level of tourism was related to the amount of that support, and ship cruises were at the apex of possible rewards.

A ship named the Wilhelm Gustloff was built and launched in 1938 specifically to cater to this travel trade. Noteworthy is that this was the first liner built specifically and solely for cruising. At over 25,000GRT, she was larger than many of the liners used by Cunard for Tourist Class trans-Atlantic service, and represented a significant landmark in ocean liner cruises.

When Gustloff went into service in April 1938, she represented the highest travel reward for a Party member or supporter. This postcard, written on the first day of her Maiden Voyage and postmarked with a Wilhelm Gustloff cancellation two days later, would make a significant statement to the recipient about the sender’s elevated stature in the eyes of the Nazi administration. The message may be mundane but the postmark tells it all.

Gustloff postmarkWilhelm Gustloff was in cruising service for only a short period of time. In September 1939 she was requisitioned by the military and used primarily as an accommodation ship during the war. In January 1945, carrying a flood of refugees and wounded fleeing the oncoming Russian army, she was torpedoed and sunk by a Russian submarine in the icy waters of the Baltic. Estimates of the passengers crammed on board range from 6,000 to 9,000 – in the chaos there were no formal records kept. Most of those passengers perished, leading to the greatest loss of life in maritime history.

This postcard, and a significant number of other Strength Through Joy ephemera such as Menus and Cruise Activities, is contained in The Sayers Collection in the John Johnson Collection at the Bodleian Library. A vast quantity of other ocean liner ephemera capturing social, shipping, historical, and commercial information in The Sayers Collection, continues to migrate across the Atlantic to the John Johnson Collection.

 

Secrets of White Star Line Ship Logs. Guest post by John G. Sayers

We are grateful to our donor, John Sayers, for another fascinating post giving insight into the significance of shipping ephemera

As with the shipping logs of every other line, the White Star Line Voyage Logs provide a day-by-day record of the voyage, and a summary of the average speed of the ship. However, the White Star Line logs are important at a higher level of shipping research.

Log for 1898-12-21 A Britannic WB
1898-12-21 A Britannic WB

When Cunard took over the White Star Line in 1934, they phased out most of the White Star Line ships fairly quickly. Only the relatively new Georgic and Britannic remained in service. The White Star administrative offices were integrated into Cunard, and the records of the former are reported to have been destroyed.

So, the only surviving information about the line and its ships is in the on-board documentation that has been saved by passengers, such as the Logs of each voyage. As with so many other lines, these are difficult to find and, by this collector’s assessment, worth acquiring even if not in perfect condition. The importance of the message trumps the condition of the medium.

For example, ships are sometimes compared in terms of their rated maximum speed. But running a ship at maximum speed may be neither prudent nor possible. Wear and tear, fuel consumption, and risks such as icebergs (as encountered by Titanic) can all serve to reduce the practical working speed. The advertised top speed may not be the actual average rate in crossing the Atlantic, and so the Logs’ values provide a more accurate practical assessment of the ‘working’ speed of a ship in service conditions.

To passengers who have come through a rough voyage, the reminder in the form of the printed Log is probably not likely to be retained. For other voyages, once the Log has been shared with admiring friends and relatives, its value to the traveler has diminished, unless it represents memories of a winning guess in a day’s Pool for the distance travelled, so it is no longer a useful memory.

This material, and a vast quantity of other ephemera capturing social, shipping, historical, and commercial information in The Sayers Collection, continues to migrate across the Atlantic to the John Johnson Collection at the Bodleian Library.

Fun and games at sea. Guest post by John G. Sayers

Our wonderful and indefatigable donor, John Sayers, in another insightful post relating to the Sayers Collection of Ocean Liner Ephemera

Welcome aboard! Anyone who has been carried across the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean by plane will probably have concluded that it was a long, boring trip. Not so. Or at least not by comparison to the travellers of decades ago when ocean liners were ‘the only way to cross’.

We’re talking about days and days at sea, interrupted only by meals. For some passengers, mal de mer sharply reduced their appetites. For others, the bar was the beacon, particularly during Prohibition in America. The shipping companies were aware of the days and days of uninterrupted boredom facing passengers, so they provided games and sports as distractions.

cover of Normandie Games booklet
Normandie Games Booklet

 

This ‘GAMES’ booklet from the legendary S.S. Normandie describes and illustrates ‘Little Olympics Afloat’ on the expansive deck space for tennis, shuffle-board and other sports in what they describe as a ‘Stadium at Sea; A Work-out on the Waves’. Also, there was the gymnasium with its rowing machine, hand-ball, and a shooting gallery; and Sun-Deck Sports and Sea Air including Tennis and Trap-Shooting. Exhausting!

 

 

For the 12 days between Honolulu and Yokohama in 1931, the S.S. President McKinley offered a daily schedule of sports capped off with a ‘Gymkhana’ on the final day of the trip.

President McKinley Games
President McKinley Games

Other ships offered Bridge and a variety of other games, and on board a British troopship in 1940 there was even a boxing match between members of the Royal Air Force (R.A.F.) and the British Army! The trooping experience must have been a stressful one, because it was December 21, 1940 on board the Viceroy of India of the P&O Line. She had been requisitioned by the Government and converted for trooping service only the month before, and these men were off to battle – somewhere!

 

This material, and a vast quantity of other ephemera capturing social, shipping, historical, and commercial information in The Sayers Collection, continues to migrate across the Atlantic to the John Johnson Collection at the Bodleian Library.

Mantle’s flour archive, Ashby-de-la-Zouch: guest post by John G. Sayers

Through John Sayers, we have just received a donation of a ledger containing a wealth of advertising material for Mantle’s Flour – a rare survival.  John has kindly sent us this post contextualising the volume.

An archive of Ashby-de-la-Zouch material brought back to England from Canada is one of the most recent additions to the Johnson Collection. A thick ledger, with Mantle’s Flour ephemera tucked and in some cases pasted into it, is a slice of a late Victorian business, with two photographs and numerous business documents and advertisements.

The archive was donated by a Canadian who acquired it in Canada.

Mantles Flour interior photo
Mantles Flour interior photo

Reportedly, it was brought to Canada about 1900 by the son of the owner of the British business, who emigrated to London, Ontario and set up a business there. A single artifact in the collection is from that Ontario business, and suggests that its products included flour, but went beyond it. We have no information as to what became of the Canadian business.

Apparently, the British company, Mantle’s Flours, advertised extensively, and striking posters attest to this. An 1897 16-page program for a Fête carries a profile of many of the businesses in Ashby-de-la-Zouch in the form of advertisements. Size of the advertisements varied considerably by business, and the largest advertisement of all – a full page – was by Mantle’s Flour.

Mantles labelLate Victorian design styles and techniques are illustrated throughout the material. Not only typography but also colour played a significant part in making some of the material very eye-catching. The illustration, a poster with one corner tipped in to the ledger page, provides a fine example of the impact of graphics and colour.

For the student of business in Ashby-de-la-Zouch, or for that matter Victorian local businesses generally, the advertisements cover much of the spectrum of late Victorian product and retail enterprise. The Program for the Fête also describes late Victorian entertainments that were provided to attendees throughout the day of the Fête. By today’s standards some of them were ‘politically incorrect’.

There are no accounting records or financial statements in the archive. What we see is essentially what the public saw. From this writer’s experience, this is relatively unusual. Financial records lend themselves to being saved because they are already in chronological order. The Mantle’s Flour records are not in any specific order and can be dated only as far as to the decade.

However, they are focused in one ledger and are in fine condition. What a wonderful business and social ‘find’!

 

The language of flowers in valentine cards

Rimmel's almanac: Language of Flowers, 1884 (cover)
Rimmel’s almanac: Language of Flowers, 1863
Manuscript bouquet, with meanings under the flowers
Manuscript bouquet, with meanings under the flowers

Valentine cards of the nineteenth century very often incorporated flowers, either as the main image, decoration or both.  The choice of flower was by no means accidental: each bloom had a meaning, understood (but how well?) by both sender and recipient.  Although red roses are the universal symbol of love even now, pansies are still associated with thoughts and lilies with purity, the meaning associated with most other flowers has been lost over time.

 

Decoding the language of flowers is not easy. Apart from inevitable variants according to the sources used, a fairly thorough botanical knowledge is called for.  Kate Greenaway (in 1884) has 33 entries for rose, all with different meanings: The language of flowers, [1884]

https://archive.org/details/languageofflower00gree

 

Valentine card with roses around a harp
Mixed roses: I live for thee
Mixed roses: Sincere affection

 

Tulips

A yellow tulip signified hopeless love or cheerful thoughts, but a red one a declaration of love, while variegated tulips conveyed beautiful eyes.

Then, there are the mixed bouquets!  Combinations of flowers pose particular problems to the 21st century viewer.

Since most valentines were composed of different elements, the intention could be clarified by the scrap bearing the text, itself sometimes incorporating a flower.

 

Scrap sheet

This year’s joint project with the National Valentine Association (USA) has led us to digitise scores of valentines from the John Johnson Collection, which can be seen online for the first time and to share via Pinterest images from other collections, institutional and private, British and American: https://uk.pinterest.com/johnjohnsoncoll/

We have also included Mullord Bros’ card game: The language of flowers, which gives a guide to flowers’ meanings in the late 19th century, taken from ‘the best authorities’.

If you can add to our knowledge of the power of the flower to impart meaning, or if you would like to share valentines from your own collection with us on our Pinterest site, please email jjcoll@bodleian.ox.ac.uk

Like to know more?

Hundreds of dictionaries of ‘floriography’ were published in Victorian Britain. Some 19th century British and American sources easily consulted online include:

The language of flowers: an alphabet of floral emblems London, New York, 1857: https://archive.org/details/languageofflower00lond

Adams, Henry Gardiner The language and poetry of flowers New York, Derby & Jackson, 1853: https://archive.org/details/languagepoetryof00adamiala

Ingram, John Henry. Flora symbolica; or, The language and sentiment of flowers. Including floral poetry, original and selected. London, F. Warne & Co, 1869: https://archive.org/details/florasymbolicaor00ingr

The language and poetry of flowers, and poetic handbook of wedding anniversary pieces, album verses, and valentines, New York, Hurst & Company, 1878: https://archive.org/details/cu31924067884076

Ship Matchbooks: guest post by donor John G. Sayers

Ship matchbooks go back to an era when most people were smokers. Providing books of matches – or small boxes of matches – was looked upon as a necessity rather than as a luxury.

Matchbooks are a commodity that had a short life – when the matches were used up, the empty book was discarded. Many of those used on the ship ended up in the ship’s garbage. A few came ashore, either because there were a few matches remaining in the book, or because they were being kept as a souvenir.

Matchbooks belong in a defined time period. With the advent of smoking bans, there are no more matchbooks being produced for dissemination aboard ships, or for most other venues. What is ‘out there’ is the quantum of what there is or ever will be. At this stage, there is a stigma about smoking, and that stigma reflects upon the collection of smoking artifacts, including matchbooks. And the legion of matchbook collectors has further withered in the reality of no new collectibles.

Matchbook cover: French Lines (Normandie)
Matchbook cover: French Lines (Normandie)

When the subject of smoking moves from the despised to the purely historical, these prime examples of ‘ephemera’ should move into the realm of research and ‘respectability’. Their significance – beyond that of a social ‘grace’ – is relevant to design, advertising, and promotion. The French Line examples are a fine example of product advertising, with each ship in the fleet as a ‘product’ and marketed separately. In the 1930s, the Normandie was their high-end product, and was marketed on its own stature and perceived elegance. However, inside the cover, other ships of the fleet are also mentioned, and the examples in the Collection show how the loss of one of the ships in the fleet (the Lafayette) in 1938 led to its deletion from the fleet list.

The only other line that appears to have actively focused on each ship as a product was the Norwegian America Line, where the various ‘fjord’ vessels had their own matchbooks. At Cunard, apparently the only vessel to have had its own distinctive matchbooks was the Queen Mary. An example is elsewhere in the Collection.

So for the French Line the premise appears to be that the Line was defined by its ships. For the other lines, the assumption was that the ships were defined by the line itself. As ‘Superliners’ the Normandie and the Queen Mary had their own distinct mantles which may explain Cunard’s efforts to define the Queen Mary’s individuality as it faced its primary competitor, the Normandie, for the most elegant and prestigious travel across the North Atlantic in the fiercely competitive 1930s.

Note that the collector should remove the matches, because of the risk of them being a fire hazard, although I understand that some matchbook collector purists prefer to have the matches intact. This Cunard example shows why!

Matchbook Cunard cover
Matchbook Cunard cover

Where the matchbooks define the line’s own broader self-image, I leave it to future students of graphics and design to use them to interpret those images!

Cunard matchbook with matches (tips now removed)

 

The Sayers Collection at the Johnson Collection, Bodleian Library, includes these matchbook examples, as part of a group of some 50 Ocean Liner matchbooks. The match tips have been removed!