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, 
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.
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 email@example.com
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:
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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
‘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
During the Prohibition era in the United States, between 1920 and 1933, there were lots of opportunities for short or long offshore ocean cruises with well-stocked and unregulated shipboard bars. Access to any booze at all was a cruise enthusiast’s pot of gold at the end of the proverbial rainbow. So for some ocean travellers, the highlight of any ocean voyage was inexpensive, untaxed booze in regular and copious quantities. As well as the pleasures of the moment there were later opportunities to boast of your consumption to parched friends back home onshore.
For those that couldn’t afford the cost – or the time – of a longer cruise, Eastern coastal cities like New York featured frequent weekend ‘’booze cruises” on ocean liners that went out just beyond American territorial waters and featured well-stocked bars. The same was true on the West Coast, to a lesser degree because of the smaller population base.
So why not combine the best of both coasts and sail on the Panama Pacific Line from one coast to the other, instead of going by rail across the continent on a train with a dining car – but no bar service. With Martinis and Daiquiris at 25 cents and Courvoisier Cognac for 35 cents a glass, even the most frugal Panama Pacific Line drinker would have been able to imbibe freely on this ship. ‘This ship’ could be any one of the liners that at various times plied the route for the Panama Pacific Line – S.S. Kroonland, S.S. Finland, S.S. Manchuria, S.S. California, S.S. Pennsylvania, and S.S. Virginia.
The cover is a delightful piece of Art Deco design. Unfortunately, the artist has not signed this image. He or she may have wanted anonymity for creating art for a relatively mundane application, or it may have been that the shipping line did not want to provide him or her with publicity. The same is true of the striking artwork on the cover of the 1930s brochure which is pictured. No matter how closely one looks, there is no hint anywhere of an artist’s signature or initials.
However, if you were sitting at the bar on one of the Line’s ships, would you really care who designed the Cocktail Menu cover, when there were so many more important decisions to be made – like, what brand of Champagne to order, or whether the bartender could make you a really good gin martini, with your favourite gin. Ah, the challenges of life at sea!
More information about wining and dining at sea can be found in The Sayers Collection, at The Johnson Collection.
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.
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.
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.