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!






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 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.