Woven silk postcards (Stevengraphs): guest post by John G. Sayers

We are very grateful to John for another blog post contextualising the ocean liner ephemera which he is donating to the John Johnson Collection.

In the very early 1900s postcards were an inexpensive form of communication, travelling at a postal rate costing less than letters. However, if you wanted to display a special level of love and friendship you could pay the money to purchase a woven silk postcard.

Stevengraph from the John Johnson Collection: Bookmarkers 4

Woven silk images were reportedly first introduced in the 1860s using Jacquard looms which had become redundant in the face of imported competition in ribbon manufacturing. Thomas Stevens was the innovator and he was able to adapt the looms to create pictures in silk. Bookmarks, greeting cards, and eventually postcards were among the upmarket products coming out of the mills in Coventry. Because of the leadership of Thomas Stevens, they became known as Stevengraphs.

The Sayers Collection illustrates two different styles of Stevengraph ship postcards. One is a colour image of the ship with the name of the ship and sometimes other information printed below the image. The other style is a ‘Hands Across the Sea’ card with national flag images depicting the countries normally served by the named ship. For example, the Lusitania card depicts British and American flags; the Empress of Ireland card pictures the British and Canadian flags.

Because all these cards were relatively expensive to the sender they are uncommon and relatively expensive to the collector. Frequently they were sent in an envelope since they are relatively fragile, so postally used versions are relatively rare.

Values depend upon the ship, the condition of the card, and the shipping line. As would be expected, White Star Line cards, particularly RMS Olympic, sister ship to Titanic, have an enthusiastic following. Ships in disasters are expensive because some people collect cards related to disasters. In this collection, RMS Lusitania and RMS Empress of Ireland fit solidly into that bracket.

What do these cards tell us? First, that the British textile industry in the later 1800s was creative and adaptive. Second, that postcard manufacturers were always searching for new types of product and found one in specialized shipping images purchased in bulk and then mounted into postcards.  Third, that buyers will pay more for what is perceived as a quality product.

These charming postcards are 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.

 

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.

White Star Line to the Middle East in 1908. Guest post by John G. Sayers

A fascinating piece of ephemera in The Sayers Collection is a Passenger List titled A Souvenir List of Members who participated in a 1908 Cruise to The Mediterranean and the Orient on the SS Arabic of the White Star Line.

Clark's tenth annual cruise to the Mediterannean and the Orient, 1908 (cover)
Clark’s tenth annual cruise to the Mediterannean and the Orient, 1908 (cover)

Passenger Lists such as this one provide a valuable insight into social history as well as passenger ship history – and represent a glimpse of a genealogist’s version of heaven. The White Star Line’s relatively new SS Arabic left New York on February 6, 1908. Passenger traffic on the North Atlantic route would have been at its low point of the year, since no one with any travel options wanted to face the storm-tossed Atlantic in winter.

Rather than empty cabins and heavily discounted fares for the few brave souls who dared to travel the Atlantic in winter, why not use the ship to take affluent passengers on a cruise to warmer climates? It was a question asked by the major shipping companies, and this type of Tour was an answer. For 70 days, participants enjoyed shipboard comforts while ranging across the Mediterranean as far as Syria and Constantinople, with visits to Spain and then the U.K. on the return as Spring unfolded there. Then – home to America.

Clark's tenth annual cruise to the Mediterannean and the Orient, 1908 (title page)
Clark’s tenth annual cruise to the Mediterannean and the Orient, 1908 (title page)

Side trips, at additional cost, were available just as they still are on cruises today. One of the featured aspects of the cruise was “…spending 19 days in Palestine and Egypt”. For the many people in the church-based society of the era, a visit to The Holy Land would have been a highlight of the experience. A close examination of this Passenger List shows that the Cruise to the Holy Land also attracted a lot of the Clergy. To the casual reader this may be understandable, but many were not well paid, and would have difficulty affording this trip. There was a solution.

Clark's tenth annual cruise to the Mediterannean and the Orient, 1908
Clark’s tenth annual cruise to the Mediterannean and the Orient, 1908

As with today’s tours, if one recruits enough paying passengers, one receives a complimentary trip. In 1908, it was no different. So it is possible, for example, that Rev. Howard Duffield of New York had recruited enough members of his congregation and their relatives and friends to receive free passage. The Passenger List contains the names of 31 Reverends. The number of clerical collars must have been a significant deterrent to inappropriate behaviour on board, and almost a guarantee that ‘the power of prayer’ could keep the entire ship’s company safe from all harm throughout the cruise.

Not all 31 ‘men of the cloth’ would have been group organizers. One would likely have been given free passage by the shipping line to minister to the spiritual needs of passengers on board, since there was no certainty on cruises that there would be nearly so many Reverends available in time of need. In some cases, appreciative congregations may have given a trip to their minister, particularly on his prospective retirement.

This Passenger List also shows the home towns of the passengers. Yes, several were from New York and places in New England. However, the Midwest, including Chicago was well represented, and some participants journeyed from places such as Tower City, North Dakota; Anaconda, Montana; San Francisco; and New Orleans.

The majority of passengers were women, with mother/daughter pairs in some cases. In an era where women could not find other than menial work, those who did not have to do so had the time available to go on educational and informative cruises while the men in their lives pursued business activities. In contrast to many other Passenger Lists of the era, there was no record of maids or valets. Either they were deemed unimportant and were not recognized in the Passenger List, or the participants who had servants did not bring their maids and valets along. I believe that the former situation is much more likely.

So this tiny booklet has many facets. It is a potential treasure trove for genealogists (including names of ship’s officers, and representatives of the Clark tour company), students of social history, and those who want to try to correlate America’s geographic affluence with the places of origin of those who can afford to make this trip. For the genealogist, it can represent an insight to the life of ancestors, such as Mr. & Mrs. W. H. Murch.

Postcard of RMS Arabic at Constantinople
RMS Arabic at Constantinople (postcard)

I delved into my White Star Line postcard archive. There were several postcards picturing the SS Arabic during the various stages of her career, and produced by a variety of publishers. One of them was like winning a PowerBall lottery draw (well, almost as good!). There was a postcard picturing ‘RMS’ Arabic at Constantinople, dated February 29, 1908 with the following message:

This is an excellent picture of our ship. We have 650 passengers on board, 350 in the crew. It is like a small town sailing the Blue Mediterranean. We are both making fine sailors and enjoying every minute of the journey. I cannot settle down to write letters. I am just sending cards. Hope you are all as well as we are. W.H. & Auntie Murch.    

Postcard of RMS Arabic Jacobsen painting
RMS Arabic: Jacobsen painting (postcard)

The Murches are shown as being from St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada – one of the few non-Americans on the ship. Another passenger name intrigued me – Hannah Tunis Munnikhuysen. Her home was shown as Bel Air, Maryland. Surely her name would pop up on a Google search. It did. There were several hits. I didn’t learn much about her except that she was born in 1881 and died in 1981, and she was married to Thomas Roy Brookes. But do any of those people who are interested in the Munnikhuysen family genealogy know that she took a pricey 70-day cruise on a White Star Line ship in 1908? Who accompanied her? According to the Passenger List it wasn’t Thomas Roy Brookes.

RMS Arabic passenger list
RMS Arabic passenger list

I hope that this and the many other Passenger Lists from many passenger liners of worldwide shipping companies in my collection can be digitized. That would make them more conveniently searchable for genealogists who want to learn more about the travel and vacation habits of their ancestors rom The Sayers Collection. As collectors and enthusiasts of antiques and ephemera we cherish the past. Isn’t it wonderful when we can learn more about the intimate details of that past!

The Cunard Radio Service in the 1930s: guest post by donor John Sayers

RMS Queen Mary 'Keeping in Touch' brochure
Figure 1. RMS Queen Mary ‘Keeping in Touch’ brochure

Two small flyers and a substantial booklet all promote the availability of radio service on board Cunard liners. The small folders each have an illustration of the radio room on board the RMS Berengaria, and carry the reassuring titles of ‘Keeping in touch with home and business’ (Figure 1) and ‘Your friends on the sea’.

These small foldover booklets apparently predate a larger booklet which features radio access for those travelling on the RMS Queen Mary, which went into service in 1936. Among many photographs in its 16 full-size pages, there is a photograph of the Radio Room (Figure 2).

The date of this larger booklet, titled ‘R.M.S. Queen Mary Radio Souvenir’ is clearly just after the Queen Mary’s Maiden voyage in May, 1936 because it carries a tipped-in printed note that during the Maiden Voyage the ship handled the following Radio traffic: over 175,500 words of Radio Telegrams; 291 Radio

Telephone calls; and 40 Programmes broadcast to countries around the world, occupying 16 hours and 19 minutes.

Figure 2: RMS Queen Mary Radio Room
Figure 2. RMS Queen Mary Radio Room

The booklet was produced by the International Marine Radio Co., Ltd., which had supplied the radio equipment. This contrasts with the two smaller, earlier booklets which were products of Cunard itself to promote use of its services – which were not free!

For business people, radio accessibility could be a critical resource. The stock market crash was within the preceding decade, so nervous investors on board could feel comfortable about being able to manage their investments – or their business – in a nimble and responsive manner.

RMS Queen Mary - Radio Message Notice
Figure. 3 RMS Queen Mary – Radio Message Notice

‘Nimble is a relative description, and my memories of films where a bellboy or cabin boy seeks out and delivers messages personally to passengers on deck (the 1960s Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr film An Affair to Remember leaps to mind) were shattered when I came across the card pictured in Figure 3, left in a cabin to tell the passenger that he or she should pick up a radio message at the radio Office.

Hopefully a business passenger would be checking for messages regularly, but he should not expect a crew member to search him out on board the ship.

A number of the passengers would have been alive when the Titanic went to her fate some 25 years earlier, so this was likely an attempt to also soothe their safety concerns while on board ship. Controversy over the usefulness of Titanic’s radio messages might have been in their minds as they recalled the terrible stories of just over two decades earlier. Images of ship radio rooms are not easy to find, so these booklets are a very useful resource.

Dating of the Berengaria images is facilitated by the fact that Berengaria went out of service in 1938, and the Cunard White Star nomenclature did not come into use until the merger in 1934, so this is likely from the pre-1934 period since they refer only to ‘Cunard’.

 The Sayers Collection. John G. Sayers, January, 2017