Here Come the Home Children. Guest post by John G. Sayers

We are grateful to John Sayers for another post in his series on ocean liner ephemera.

Allan Line promotional flyer, 1890s
Allan Line promotional flyer, 1890s

The Allan Line ephemera in The Sayers Collection brings to mind the significant role that the Line played in shipping migrants to Canada. In the late 1800s and early 1900s the Canadian Government worked hard to encourage immigration of all types from the British Isles and the 1890 promotional flyer illustrated was a fascinating part of that effort. A specific example was the Home Children, orphaned and abandoned and then taken in by the Barnardo Homes among others.

A local building in our own home town in Canada housed Home Children a hundred years ago and they reportedly all came on Allan Line ships. One of the Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum’s prized artifacts is a child’s simply-constructed wooden box addressed as being sent via Allan Line’s RMS Corsican.

Coincidentally, the immigration promotion activity produced good business for the Allan Line. This flyer was found with an Allan Line Passenger List and hinted at the impetus for that traveller’s voyage. But if they were immigrating, he or she wasn’t your regular Steerage passenger, because Steerage Class received little documentation. Only a non-steerage passenger would receive a Passenger List or a Menu with a choice of meal offerings. The Home Children being sent to Canada would have had to accept whatever food was plopped onto their plates.

Allan Line immigration inspection card, 23 March 1911
Allan Line immigration inspection card, 23 March 1911

Other Allan Line ephemera in the extensive Sayers Collection includes a Landing Pass from a Corsican passenger, a Mr. William Harrison, showing that he had passed the Medical and Civil Examination criteria. And on the back were instructions in all of the major European languages, confirming that some passengers did not originate in the British Isles. Nationals of other countries were also looking for a new life in the New World.

This archive and a vast trove of other ocean liner ephemera capturing social, shipping, historical, and commercial information is contained in The Sayers Collection in the John Johnson Collection at the Bodleian Library. Additional gems from The Sayers Collection continue to migrate across the Atlantic to the John Johnson Collection.


Demise of the S.S. l’Atlantique. Two tragedies. Guest post by John G. Sayers

We are, as ever, very grateful to John Sayers for supplying us with blog posts contextualising treasures from his collection, now being transferred to the John Johnson Collection

This sad black-and-white image of a great liner, the S.S. L’Atlantique, has two aspects to its story. The first element is the ship itself, which went into service in 1930 for a subsidiary of the French Line for service to South America. At some 40,000 gross tons she was the largest – and the most luxurious – of all the ships providing that service.

Photograph of S.S. Atlantique, 1933
Photograph of S.S. Atlantique, 1933

If she had the good fortune of being like other newly-built ships of her era, she would have at least lasted until the beginning of the Second World War in 1939. Unfortunately, a fire broke out in August 1933 while she was being moved through the English Channel for some reconstruction work. The fire could not be extinguished, and she was totally destroyed.

A typed tissue label glued to the back of this crisp 8×10 inch photograph reports:

French luxury liner towed home. The remains of the ruined French liner “L’Atlantique” is towed into Cherbourg Harbour. The bow of the Atlantique and her broken mast photographed on arrival in Cherbourg Harbour. 8/1/33.

And herein lies the second part of the story. The fascinating image is a Press Photo, a remnant of the pre-digitizing age when a number of businesses specialized in providing timely photographic news images, along with a brief narrative on the back, to major newspapers. This crisp image, and a typed caption glued to the back, was labeled as by the Sport & General Press Agency Ltd, London.

Further notations on the back included ‘F194199’, and ‘688’. There is a rubber stamp that says ‘Pageant of the Century. For caption see page 688’. Another penciled notation indicates that an unknown user wants the width reduced to 6 ¾ inches. There is a further penciled notation in red that directs ‘1/14R’.

Each publication would have a library of these photographs, so that after their first usage they would remain available for any future news articles. Can you visualize drawers and drawers of historical 8×10 glossy photographs with brief but convenient captions on the backs? Guess where all these went when publications adopted digital imaging. What was once widespread is now rare because those drawers and drawers of photos are now digital images on the hard drive of a computer or even stored in a cloud.

The images themselves would have been dumped as unneeded. And the clerks who maintained the files, filing new photos and finding any old ones that were needed for a current story, succumbed to the employment ravages of the computer age. Two stories, each of them marking a sad end to an era.

This 8×10 inch glossy Press Photo, and a vast trove of other ocean liner ephemera capturing social, shipping, historical, and commercial information is contained in The Sayers Collection in the John Johnson Collection at the Bodleian Library. Additional gems from The Sayers Collection continue to migrate across the Atlantic to the John Johnson Collection.





Canadian Pacific Prominent at the 1924 British Empire Exhibition: guest post by John Sayers

We are grateful to John for sending guest posts about the treasures of the Sayers Collection of Ocean Liner Ephemera, now being transferred to the Bodleian Libraries where it forms one of the named collections added to the John Johnson Collection.

Canadian Pacific postcard
Figure 1. The original Canadian Pacific postcard

I already had in my Ocean Liner collection a postcard of the Canadian Pacific Pavilion at the British Empire Exhibition (Figure 1) drawn by an artist whose signature is illegible. Recently, I found a booklet describing the Pavilion, with a similar cover image as the postcard, drawn by P. A. Staynes. But it also had a centrefold drawing of the beautiful interior of the Pavilion (Figure 2). Since it was a promotional item, it also carried CP advertising, including a captivating page promoting their services to the Far East (Figure 3). This ephemera is a realm beyond postcards.

Centre spread of Canadian Pacific brochure, showing the Canadian Pacific Pavilion, Wembley
Figure 2. Centre spread of Canadian Pacific brochure, showing the Canadian Pacific Pavilion, Wembley
Promotion of Far East tour within Canadian Pacific brochure
Figure 3. Promotion of Far East tour within Canadian Pacific brochure

So much for the Ocean Liner element. But to appreciate the significance of the Exhibition and whether CP was relatively prominent, one has to go beyond this single building at the Exhibition to look at the larger aspect of the Fair itself. At this time the British Empire of Queen Victoria’s era was relatively intact. There were rumblings of a thirst for independence in the colonies, notably Gandhi’s activities in India, but the sun hadn’t yet set on the British Empire.The Exhibition was officially opened on April 23, 1924 so the booklet would have been harvested by an Empire Exhibition visitor who was among the eventual 27 million visitors to this largest-ever event of its type to this date.

This was a landmark event, but it also flags the high commercial status of the Canadian  Pacific organization.

Broadening the focus from Ocean Liner companies to the nature and extent of the Fair itself, and having come to appreciate the significance of the event, one can now place the Canadian Pacific Ocean Liner material’s British Empire Exhibition component in its proper context within the Sayers Collection.

This material, and a significant amount of other Canadian Pacific shipping ephemera such as Passenger Lists, Brochures, 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.


What’s in a name? Guest post by John G. Sayers

We are grateful to John for another post about one of the treasures of his collection

Deutchland Crew postcard
Deutschland Crew postcard

Captain Koenig and the Crew of the Deutschland.  Interesting. This Real Photo postcard dating from 1916 appeared – at first glance – to be the Captain and senior officers of a German ocean liner, interned by the Americans on the outbreak of the First War. When I saw it, I assumed that it would fill a useful slot in The Sayers Collection. There are other cards of this genre, and the year 1916 would be logical for this assumption.

No such luck. A check on returning home from the event where I purchased this card showed that the liner Deutschland had been renamed in 1910 after 10 years of Transatlantic service, so was not operating under that name after 1910. And it wasn’t the battleship Deutschland, which had gone into service in 1903.

So who are these men? What were they doing in 1916? And why the varied range of attire, some of it casual except for their hats? Surprise! They are the crew of a significant German submarine, which went into service in 1916 as a cargo vessel for the North German Lloyd line, christened as the Deutschland. She and a sister submarine were unarmed non-naval vessels designed to evade the British warships blockading Germany. With a capacity of 700 tons, they were designed to carry strategic materials from America and deliver high-end German products like aniline dyes to the U.S. It appears that they were the first-ever purpose-built cargo-carrying submarines.

There was considerable controversy because the British blockade of Germany could not stop these undersea ships from carrying strategic cargo. Britain claimed that by not interning this boat the Americans were favouring Germany. America was neutral at this stage of the war and concluded that it could not discriminate in regard to what was essentially a cargo ship. If it had been armed and a ship of the German navy, the position would have been different.

Deutschland made only two trips – one to New York and a second one which involved Baltimore. There are images online from the second voyage, but none of this first voyage! Photographer and publisher is G.L. Thompson, New York.

In 1917 Deutschland was taken over from the North German Lloyd shipping line by the German navy, armed for war service, and renamed U-155. Her cargo-carrying ability was inadequate and the need for more attack submarines transcended her value as a cargo carrier. Even though her design was not that of a conventional submarine, serving until the end of the War she reportedly sank over 20,000 tons of Allied shipping.

This postcard, and thousands of other pieces of ephemera, 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.

Titanic’s sister at war: a guest post by John G. Sayers

We are grateful to John Sayers for continuing to commentate his fascinating donation of Ocean Liner ephemera in this series of blog posts.

The SS Olympic, sister ship to Titanic, was launched and entered service prior to the Titanic. They were so similar that interior pictures of the Olympic could also pass for images of the Titanic.

HMS Olympic








Titanic didn’t survive her first voyage, but Olympic sailed on for over 20 more years. Part of those years were during wartime and a recent postcard find reminds us of that service. Adding to the Stevengraphs in the Sayers Collection at the John Johnson Collection is a charming postcard captioned as the ‘H.M.S. Olympic’. This card is not to be confused with the other example of the same ship that is in the Collection. It’s from the period when she was serving as a White Star Line passenger liner and Royal Mail Ship (hence ‘R.M.S.’). This iteration is different.

Concert programme H.M.T.2810
Concert programme H.M.T.2810

Why ‘HMS’, which would denote a naval ship? Other references to her war service show her as HMT – His Majesty’s Transport. Specifically, a ‘Grand Concert’ Program of November 4, 1916 shows her as H.M.T. 2810 (left). One can only assume that the publisher of the card wasn’t familiar with naval designations. Regardless of the inaccuracy, it’s a beautiful card.




This postcard, and a significant amount of other White Star Line and wartime ephemera 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.


“Flourish’d Pieces, for School-Boys to Write in” Guest post © Jill Shefrin

We are grateful to Jill Shefrin for contributing this guest post and to Audrey T. Carpenter for donating the Vinicombe school pieces which Jill discusses. Jill is compiling a complete catalogue of all known school pieces in English. If you know of any, please email her at:

In his memoirs, the grammarian Lindley Murray (1745-1826) recalled an incident in his childhood during which:

“a very happy impression was made on my mind, by a piece which was given me to write, and in the performance of which I had to exhibit a specimen of my best handwriting. The sheet was decorated round its edges with a number of pleasing figures, displayed with taste and simplicity. In the centre my performance was to be contained. This was a transcript of the visit and salutation of the angels to the shepherds… who were tending their flocks by night. The beauty of the sheet; the property I was to have in it; and the distinction which I expected from performing the work in a handsome manner; prepared my mind for relishing the solemn narrative… I was highly pleased with the whole.”  (quoted in Charles Monaghan, The Murrays of Murray Hill. Urban History Press, 1998, pp. 9-10).

Peace in India, or the Conquest of Seringapatnam. JJColl: Writing Blanks adds

In 1799, a ten-year-old boy called Henry Vinicombe completed a “specimen of” his “best handwriting.” He would probably have called the printed sheet a “school piece”. It and another, filled in by Henry in 1800, have recently been donated to the John Johnson Collection by Audrey T. Carpenter




Arts and Sciences. JJColl: Writing Blanks adds. Image (C) John Carpenter


An earlier piece by Henry, displaying his text surrounded by engravings of Admiral Nelson’s glorious victory over the French fleet off the mouth of the Nile (Laurie & Whittle, 1798), is in the collections of the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich:

Sampler made by Cathaine Vinicom [sic]. Private collection of Audrey T. Carpenter. Image (C) John Carpenter


The function of a school piece was the same as that of a sampler, except that it was handwriting rather than stitchery that was on show. The child, in this case Henry Vinicombe, wrote in the blank centre of the sheet




The Pilgrim’s Progress. JJColl: Educational folder 5 (8).



Sometimes a place for their signature—and perhaps the date of completion or the name of their school—was incorporated into the pictorial border.



A copy of verses. JJColl: Bellman’s verses


In format, school pieces recall prints on which a border design encloses letterpress type.

School piece borders were often narrative, their content diverse. Some illustrated bible stories, others popular works of literature or history or even theatre productions.


The Life of Edward the Black Prince. Harding B 44(15)
The Broken Crutch, a pastoral tale by Robert Bloomfield. JJColl: Educational folder 5 (24)


Harlequin and Mother Goose; or the Golden Egg. Harding B 44(39)


Marquis Wellington’s glorious victory at Salamanca July 22nd 1812 JJ Coll: Educational folder 5 (27)








Others taught lessons in geography, writing or more intangible subjects like politeness, industriousness or the virtues of commerce. Yet others portrayed the news of the day, from military and naval victories through notorious crimes and cataclysmic events.




Curators and antiquarian booksellers call these sheets “writing blanks” or “writing sheets”. In the long eighteenth century they had many names, of which “school piece” was the most common. Printed from copperplates, they were published between about 1660 and 1860. As with other kinds of relatively cheap prints, the survival rate for school pieces is very low; the Bodleian is fortunate to hold well over 100 examples.

Enlarged detail from The progress of Education: Harding B 44(34)

Rare as these sheets are, and difficult as it is to trace the history of their publication, contemporary descriptions of their use are rarer still. Murray helps us to understand children’s response to their school pieces. Henry’s school pieces are special because, thanks to his descendent, who donated his pieces to the library, we know something about his life. All too often, it is impossible to establish anything at all about the lives of the children whose possessions survive in museums and rare book and ephemera collections.

I’ve been piecing together the history of English school pieces for several years. They were sold in some other European countries, but only some, There’s a very useful book by Leontine Buijnsters-Smets on Dutch school pieces: Decoratieve prenten met geschreven wensen, 1670-1870. Nijmegen : Vantilt, 2007

Published to coincide with the end of a school term, with new titles appearing regularly, in England they were sold wholesale to schoolmasters, who then sold them on to their pupils.

Some children purchased them directly, either in shops, or if the evidence of a set of alphabet cards of London Cries published by William and Thomas Darton can be trusted, from street criers.

X for Xmas pieces from London Cries alphabet cards, Sold by William & Thomas Darton, [c. 1808-1810]. Opie G 120

At least by the nineteenth century—when they were known as “Christmas pieces”—even children in workhouses might receive prizes for them. According to the Morning Chronicle (23 December 1840), on:

“Christmas-day in the Workhouses …in Clerkenwell, … Mr. Whitelock, one of the overseers, has generally supplied the children with Christmas pieces to write for prizes.”

I’ve said we are fortunate to know Henry’s history. His father, William Vinicombe was an Excise Officer. The family lived in Marylebone, in London, where they leased a house and took in lodgers and Henry and his sisters went to school. He started working at thirteen. We don’t know his initial occupation but, like his father, it was probably something clerical, and in 1818 he followed his father into the Excise Service, and had achieved a relatively senior position before he was fired in 1843, having been found in “a State of Intoxication from excessive drinking”. As a young man he was a bit of a dandy, spending beyond his means on fashionable clothing—but also on books. He married in 1832 and had eight children. I’ve traced a few other young people whose school pieces have survived from the long eighteenth century. They were sons and daughters of tradesmen, merchants, clergymen, tenant farmers, and gentlemen.

Penn’s treaty with the Indians with a description of the manners of the Americans, completed by Elizabeth Whitby, Decr 19th 1805. JJColl: Educational folder 5 (19)


Had Henry been a girl it would be even more exciting to know his history. Only about a fifth of the filled-in school pieces I’ve seen were done by girls—including one by Henry’s sister, Frances Vinicombe—  and contemporary advertisements often refer to them as “for school-boys to write in” (H. Overton, 1758).

Advertisement for flourish’d pieces. JJColl: Penmen 6

One of Henry’s school pieces celebrates Education, with emblematic illustrations representing a gentlemanly curriculum: War, Mesuration, Geography, Mathematics, History, Music, Astronomy, Fortification, Painting, Agriculture and Commerce. Like arithmetic, writing was a very important skill in the long eighteenth century for young men seeking employment. Writing masters like Joseph Champion and Philip Pickering advertised that they could “speedily” fit youths “for Trades” (Country Journal or The Craftsman, 9 January 1731) or “any of the Publick Offices” (Daily Journal, 14 June 1728). A boy who could both write well and keep accounts was almost certain to find employment.

Adventures of Franklin. JJColl: Educational folder 5 (21a)

Benjamin Franklin, whose life story was told on another school piece in the collection, was a sterling example of the rewards of such industriousness.

Henry’s chosen text for 1800 celebrates the value of a good education.  [image] It was excerpted from the moral to the fable of “The Bull and the Dog” in William Markham’s Introduction to Spelling and Reading English. First published in 1738, Markham’s spelling book was among the most popular of the century. Henry probably read one of the editions illustrated by Thomas Bewick. The passage nicely summarizes the value of education for a young man at the close of the eighteenth century: “Nothing has a more direct Tendency to promote the Honour of a Nation, or the Good of Society, than the Initiation of Youth, in Virtue and Knowledge.”