The Sayers Collection of Ocean Liner Ephemera: an update

Letter Foldover Dec 2012 NYK Menu Toshogu Shrine May 6, 1923 SS Mashima Maru
Letter Foldover Dec 2012 NYK Menu Toshogu Shrine May 6, 1923 SS Mashima Maru

In July 2016, we announced the (gradual) acquisition of John Sayers’ extensive and international collection of Ocean Liner ephemera and posted an interview with the donor. This update gives information about the ephemera received to January 2017.


Encompassing postcards, advertisements, brochures, menus, deck plans, baggage labels, regulations, newspapers printed on board ship, and more substantial publications, the Sayers Collection charts the history of a wide variety of ocean liners, both in peace time and during both world wars.

Blog posts

John has an unerring eye for the interesting detail, and we are publishing on this blog numerous posts and articles he has written about the diverse information contained in this fascinating collection.

Finding Aids

The collection is meticulously organised and presented. In due course parts of it will be catalogued at an item level, thanks to the generosity of John and Judith Sayers. Meanwhile, we are posting on the John Johnson Collection website indexes of the binders so far received. The following is a list of the categories we currently hold, with links to any related blog posts.

White Star Line

Baggage label White Star
White Star Line baggage label

Menus (1 binder) indexed

Passenger Lists (2 binders) indexed






Cunard Menus (11 binders)  indexed

Clarkes Norway Cruise brochure cover
Clarkes Norway Cruise

Cunard Passenger Lists (6 binders) indexed

Cunard General Ephemera   (6 binders)

Immigration Archive: Cunard RMS Ivernia 1925 (1 binder)

QE2 2008 Farewell Cruise  (2 binders)


British India Steam Navigation Co.

SS Kenya Menus 1964 (1 binder) indexed

SS Nevasa Menus, 1956 (2 binders) indexed

Childrens Menus, 1950s and 1960s, mainly SS Kenya & SS Uganda  (1 binder) indexed

Voyage Logs (1 binder)


Canadian Pacific

Canadian Pacific Ocean and Rail Service brochure
Canadian Pacific Ocean and Rail Service brochure

Promotional Booklets (2 binders)

Cruises (3 binders)

Canadian Pacific Cruise 1930 (1 binder)


Hamburg-American Line & North German Lloyd

St Columbus Thanksgiving 1937 Caribbean Cruise Archive (1 binder)



SS Ranchi Cruise 1926, P&O (1 binder)



Liners at the Royal Naval Review, Spithead, 1935 (1 binder)

Baggage labels (4 binders)

Postcard & Menu Combinations (2 binders) indexed

Allowance Lists (SS United States)

Reford Estate Deck Plans (2 binders)

“Rigid sleeve” (outsize) material

Various volumes


Multi-tasking undertakers in trade cards

Trade card for Willm Boyce, coffinmaker
Trade Cards 28 (89)

Late 18th and early 19th century trade cards give us fascinating insights into undertaking. While there were dedicated undertakers, a startling number of tradesman undertook this role as a sideline to their main trades. Often these had an obvious relation to one of the multiple tasks of preparing a body for the grave (trunk makers, carpenters, drapers), administrating the wordly goods of the deceased (house appraisers, auctioneers), or equipping the mourners (drapers, hatters).

Trade Card for Willson, upholder, cabinet-maker, etc.
Trade Cards 4 (57)
Trade Card for J. & R. Shepherd, naval & military trunk makers
Trade Cards 28 (57)






Trade Card for Henry Slater, broker
Trade Cards 2 (54)







Trade Card for Wilson, Venetian spring parlour
Trade Cards 29 (112)

There are some curious juxtapositions, however: Venetian blind makers, for example and brush manufacturers.

Trade Card for Joseph Seager, brush manufacturer
Trade Cards 4 (3)






Trade Card for William Castle, cabinet & chair manufactory
Trade Cards 4 (43)

More than one tradesman omits to mention undertaker on his trade card and adds it by hand.




Trade cards reveal much about funeral practices in the 18th and 19th century, not least through their imagery. Depictions of funeral processions, hearses, the apparel of horses and carriages, mutes, and coffins differ from other sources in that they do not record an actual event but rather encapsulate in the restrained medium of a small-format engraving the correct appartenances of a funeral.

Trade Card for Thomas Matcham , hearse & mourning coach maker
Trade Cards 28 (114)



Funerals, even of the less afluent, were elaborate in 18th and 19th century England and codes of mourning dress and etiquette were to be strictly observed.  Charles Dickens notably decried the pomp and circumstance (and attendant expense) of even humble funerals and the employment of paid mourners, notably in the form of ‘mutes’, who kept vigil outside the house of the deceased and then accompanied the coffin.   Oliver Twist is perhaps literature’s best-known mutes, during his apprenticeship to Mr Sowerberry.

Trade Card for J. Taylor, carpenter, joiner & undertaker
Trade Cards 28 (106)

Their dress was distinctive: dark clothes with a sash, top hat and a stave swathed in black crape, although white was used for the funeral of an infant.

Trade cards and bill headings which give prices for undertaking services are also invaluable to social historians. The example below gives extensive detail of the components of each of nine classes of funeral for adults and four for children (but alas is not dated).

Trade advertisement for Alfred Beckett, furnishing undertaker
Trade Cards 28 (88)

















Trade cards (but not bill headings) in the John Johnson Collection are catalogued and digitised and can be accessed through our online catalogue. Undertakers as a primary trade are at shelfmark Trade Cards 28, but in order to find the multiplicity of cards which include undertaking, set the scrollbar to Subjects, Trades and Products in browse.



Shakespeare in the John Johnson Collection for scholars and dilettantes

The Bard immortalized in ephemera

Such is Shakespeare’s fame, that he has, inevitably, permeated the culture of our land. Quotations and misquotations from his works pepper advertisements from cosmetics to shoe polish, artificial teeth to linen mesh underwear. The Bard lent a certain gravitas.

Keen's mustard detail
Food 7 (38b) detail
Keen's mustard ad
Food 7 (38b)

Shakespeare’s portrait graced match boxes and cigar labels, and advertisements for (among others) soap, patent medicines, mustard & candles. In her excellent work Portraits of Shakespeare (Oxford, Bodleian Library, 2015) Katherine Duncan-Jones situates these humble ephemera as derivative of the Droeshout engraving or the Chandos portrait.

Shakespeare: Great English writers on candles
Oil and Candles 1 (57)


Shakespeare cigar lights
Labels 12 (43c)


Pears soap ad showing Shakespeare
Soap 7 (14)




Cellular cloth and clothing catalogue showing Shakespeare collar, 1892
Oxford Trade Pamphlets (7) p. 13







A women’s clothing company (The Shakespeare Manufacturing Company of  Manchester) took his name and a collar was called after Shakespeare.

Inevitably, many circulating libraries and bookshops bore his name or his portrait on their trade card.

Clubb & Greening trade card with Shakespeare portrait
Booktrade Trade Cards 4





Hodgson's New Characters in The Tempest Miniature Theatre sheet, 1823
Hodgson’s New Characters in The Tempest Miniature Theatre sheet, 1823

In our ProQuest project (free within the UK), in addition to advertisements, there are sheet music covers, minature theatre sheets, popular and humorous prints, scraps and prospectuses.

However, the major corpus of Shakespeare-related ephemera in the John Johnson Collection is theatrical, with over 2,000 playbills and programmes from London and provincial theatres fully indexed and digitised on our ProQuest site with some playbills from the end of the 18th century on DigitalBodleian.  These playbills constitute a major scholarly resource.

Mrs SIddons in Macbeth, April 14 1812
London Playbills Covent Garden vol. 1811-1812 (159), with Sarah Siddons as Lady Macbeth

Not only can researchers find details of which plays were performed, when and in which venue, but also who performed them, in whose edition and in what context. As all performers are indexed, scholars can find Sarah Siddons in Macbeth, John Kemble in Coriolanus, Edmund Kean in Richard III.

The couplings of Shakespeare tragedies with somewhat lighter works are alien to our current theatre-going practices and reveal much about the nature of an evening’s entertainment expected by Georgians, Victorians and Edwardians.  Inserted into these long evenings were songs, dances, ballets, burlettas, masquerades, etc.  Musicologists can search for specific pieces or composers of incidental music or discrete works.

In addition to resources available electronically, there are eight boxes and three folders of ephemera and secondary material relating to the Bard, including undigitised prospectuses of Shakespeare editions. The Shakespeare index is online.

Don’t forget to explore ballads relating to Shakespeare too:

Complex relationships: fathers and sons in postcards of the First World War: guest post by Leea Stroia

My thanks to Leea Stroia, graduate historian researching WW1, for writing a series of posts based on the John Fraser Collection of Propaganda Postcards, of which this is the first.

The John Fraser Collection of Propaganda Postcards includes many postcards of children engaged in various activities and filling various roles during the First World War. One common depiction of children on the postcards is in relation to adults, notably sons in relation to fathers. This relationship is revealed in three distinct ways.

WW1 postcard: England shall not ask in vain
John Fraser Collection GB5a (418)

First, boys are shown wishing to be like their fathers and go to war alongside them. While there are many postcards which encourage recruitment by using children, one way this is often done is through showing boys longing to be like their fathers, to join other men at the front and so to be men as well. This sends the message that manhood is achieved during the war by fighting. Masculinity is appealed to in the recruitment posters depicted on postcards by reminding men that their country asks for them to fight. There are many examples of boys looking at the posters with captions such as ‘England shall not ask in vain’.

WW1 postcard: I want to go with daddy
John Fraser Collection GB5 (387)

While the postcards highlighted patriotism for its own sake by depicting boys longing to answer their country’s call, they also encouraged patriotism by showing that joining up would lead to recognition. Therefore, one major incentive to joining war according to the postcards was to gain the admiration of one’s sons. Patriotism and the war effort are advertised in the postcards by showing the zeal of boys who wish they could go to war alongside their fathers.


WW1 postcard: I wonder if they'd take me!
John Fraser Collection GB5a (395)

While most show fighting fathers as examples for their sons, there are also several postcards with girls wishing to imitate their father and join up as well. These girls either wish to join and wonder if they can or are simply depicted in uniform.







WW1 postcard: A little soldier maid in France
John Fraser Collection GB5a (494)

The use of girls longing  to fight highlights both the masculine example of soldier fathers but also manipulates men slightly by suggesting that girls may be more manly and so men should prove their masculinity through joining up.







WW1 postcard: I'm trying to fill a vacancy"
John Fraser Collection GB5 (100)

Second, boys are shown attempting to fill the empty place that their fathers’ joining up has left. This depiction of absence is done both humorously and seriously. The humorous postcards often depict boys performing tedious tasks, such as buttoning their mother’s many buttons. They depict unattractive or unhappy women with tired boys. The serious ones on the other hand generally have attractive albeit sad women and sad but hopeful boys.

WW1 postcard: Just as daddy used to do!
John Fraser Collection GB5 (158)

Many  postcards show little boys next to their grieving mothers trying to comfort them. The captions make very clear that the boys are trying to be men at home since all the adult, ‘real’ men have gone to fight. They commentate on the illustrations with sentences such as ‘Just as Daddy used to’.  Just as boys wished to be like their fathers and go to war, they also wished to fill the void their fathers have left behind and comfort their mothers.


WW1 postcard: Love to daddy
John Fraser Collection GB5a (185)

Third, boys are shown missing their fathers. The masculinity of the men fighting is only emphasised  and solidified by the fact that they are missed by their wives and sons. Boys are seen longingly looking into the distance while writing a letter to their father, women and sons write together, and poems on the postcards articulate that the soldiers are remembered and missed.



WW1 postcard: Fond thoughts of you
John Fraser Collection GB5a (194)

Often these postcards use sentimental photographs rather than cartoons. Some postcards have no images at all and instead have a letter to the father on the front with a space for a personal note on the back.







WW1 postcard: Writing a letter to daddy
John Fraser Collection GB5a (180)
WW1 postcard: I want to kiss daddy good-night
John Fraser Collection GB5a (183)

Postcards depicting mothers and daughters are subtly different, emphasising the void left by fathers as girls write to them and wish they could kiss them goodnight. However, these examples also solidify the need for the father’s absence through photographs of soldiers at the Front placed  in the corners of the postcards.  These different depictions of absence serve to solidify that the soldier is missed and thought of by those at home.

All these various cards use the relationships between fathers and sons (and daughters) to highlight the model of masculinity and encourage it. Masculinity during  the First World War related to war in propaganda. The true man was also a soldier. The true man was a model for his sons and was missed. The postcards supported and encouraged this patriotic, fighting masculinity by showing soldiers as fathers who were missed, admired, imitated, and loved.

Our new Pinterest site: World War One Romance

World War One romance

As in previous years, we are collaborating with the National Valentine Collectors Association (USA) to highlight an aspect of valentine production.  This year, we strike a more sombre note, with valentine postcards from the First World War. This forms part of our commemoration of WWI, mainly through the John Fraser Collection of Propaganda Postcards.

Although we show a few examples from the USA, valentines themselves were, unsurprisingly, uncommon in the war years.  Instead, separated from their loved ones, men and women sent tokens of love in the form of postcards to and from the trenches to keep their romance alive. Sentimental postcards, often showing couples pining for each other across the miles, were sometimes produced in series, chronicling each verse of a popular song.


Woven silk postcards were produced by French women for soldiers to buy and send home. The greetings are by no means confined to valentines, but include  birthdays, Christmas, New Year, good luck cards and souvenirs.

Pin cushion valentines were often produced by disabled soldiers for rehabilitation. Elaborate designs often incorporated regimental colours.

“The Girl Behind the Man Behind the Gun”: An Impossible Expectation for Women in WWI? Guest post by Nina Foster

The John Johnson Collection participates in a scheme run by Oxford University’s Department of Art History, through which students can gain experience of the curation of collections. We have been fortunate to welcome Nina Foster, who has been working on posters in the First World War.

Throughout 2015, the John Johnson Collection will remember the First World War through the plethora of propaganda posters and postcards in the collection. While many of the posters were directed towards young men, encouraging them to enlist to the army immediately, there were also many posters aimed at women. The First World War offered some women their first opportunity to have a job, which would set a precedent for women’s rights campaigns throughout the early twentieth century.

Postcard in the John Fraser Collection, bearing 'The man behind the gun' slogan (JFP/GB5(61)
Postcard in the John Fraser Collection, bearing ‘The man behind the gun’ slogan (JFP/GB5(61)

The images of women in WWI posters reveal the tension between the need for women to work “like men” during the war and the desire for them to remain true to the Victorian ideal of a feminine woman. The poignant slogan (used by the Queen Mary’s Auxiliary Corps among others) “The Girl Behind the Man Behind the Gun” pointed to the importance of women during the First World War but who that girl really was, or should have been, remained ambivalent.

Women say go poster
(C) John Johnson Collection



Some posters, such the famous “Women of Britain say GO!”  depict women as timid, frightened and almost trapped in the home while their husbands went off to the front line. The young boy clutching on to the skirt of his elder sister who in turn embraces her mother for support, drives home the message that women and children could be taken together as helpless victims of the war who needed to be protected by men. No doubt this was a successful persuasive tactic from the propaganda poster companies for encouraging men to fight but it proved to be an unsustainable way of depicting women as their position in society changed throughout the war. As Diana Condell and Jean Liddiard note in their book Working for Victory: Images of Women in the First World War, the war presented an opportunity for women to go beyond the traditional feminine role and to gradually immerse themselves in the public sphere. However the prospect that women could now do the same jobs as men posed problems for the idea that women were powerless and in need of protection from the war. How could a woman be both helpless and helpful for the war at the same time? It would seem that as the war progressed, posters were asking women to do both, arguably an impossible combination.

Posters now began to show women in masculine, military style uniform looking confident, commanding and self-assured such as the flag-wielding woman of the Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps recruitment poster.

Queen Mary's Army Auxiliary Corps poster (top) bty0003This poster claims that to join the QMAAC was “the Supreme test of British Womanhood”, a decidedly different take on womanhood than can be seen in a contemporary poster depicting the horrors of the bombing of Scarborough.

Poster relating to the bombing of Scarborough






Here women are grouped with children as defenceless victims of German evils and the poster resonates visually as well by depicting a young girl holding a baby. It is clear that posters from this era expected two very different things from contemporary women; on the one hand they had to be weak, guardians of the home, the very thing that men were fighting to protect and on the other hand they had to play their part in the war, to do the jobs men had left behind even if it meant abandoning their traditional “feminine” role.

This clash of ideals prompted the production of some very strange propaganda Women's Land Service Corps posterposters. One poster in the collection for the Women’s Land Service Corps shows a man leaving the responsibility of the land to his wife. The overwhelming pinkness of the poster is perhaps intended to conflate the new workingwoman and traditional feminine attributes of the ideal Victorian woman. The strange, unreal aesthetic of this image is due to the attempt to combine these two views of women, which increasingly came to contradict each other throughout the war.

The Girl Behind the Man Behind the Gun really had an unstable identity; was she strong or weak? Helpless or helpful? World War One posters alternated between these two contrasting ideas of ‘supreme British womanhood’, seeking to reconcile the irreconcilable. Images of women were a pivotal persuasive tactic employed by the printers of propaganda posters. Depictions of women were used both to encourage men to protect their homes but also to encourage women to embrace their new roles as modern working women.