We are delighted to have another post from John relating to his wonderful donation of the Sayers Collection of Ocean Liner Ephemera. This one relates to a fascinating archive within the collection.
It’s exciting to find new ephemera for your collection. It’s even more exciting when you find two or more items. It’s most exciting when you find an entire archive that helps to put together all those individual pieces of the puzzle.
An archive of material gives you more background to the cards and ephemera, but it can also tell you something about the people who were part of the experience. Let’s be more specific. Suppose that you found a cache of material from a house clearance when you were shopping at the annual Madison-Bouckville Antique Week in New York State in August.
In this case, it was ephemera from a 1930 cruise on the Canadian Pacific liner Duchess of Bedford. The material had come from a house in Rochester, NY, and the vendor was offering the entire pile of ‘stuff ‘ for sale en bloc. If he hadn’t specialized in house clearances, he would probably have broken up the material and packaged and sold the items separately or in small groups.
There were De Muth postcards (Figures 1,2), ship’s daily newsletters, menus, farewell greeting cards, letters and envelopes, and a number of other items of ephemera, which all packaged separately would have commanded a total price considerably higher than what I paid for the entire lot. What would have been worse is that dispersing those components to separate buyers would have destroyed many things that this collection tells us about cruising in 1930, and the people who took those cruises.
You probably have a number of friends who have taken cruises to exotic destinations. That’s today. In 1930, cruising was not so common, and to take a cruise was to make a statement about your financial health and your sophistication. Your friends would have been so impressed that they would have mailed Bon Voyage greetings to you, such as the three examples pictured (Figures 3-5) with distinctly different designs.
The cards are delightful and the artwork is sweet. But if the archive had been broken up, you would have been competing with collectors of greeting cards. A particularly scarce trophy is probably the Welcome Home card in Figure 6. Nice artwork – and how many people would send a card to welcome someone home when they could telephone them or maybe even see them on the street in town.
It’s not only the greeting cards that would have been a crossover collectible. Some people out there collect telegrams and their attractive artwork. So to buy the envelope in Figure 7, and the message inside, you might have had to compete with a collector of telegrams.
All this shows that the couple taking the cruise had a number of sophisticated friends who were impressed enough by the occasion to buy and mail some very nice greeting cards, and even to send a telegram.
We can also guess that the husband was a stamp or cover collector. One of
their friends sent the letter and cover in Figure 8 with the comment, “We hope you are enjoying your trip, thought you would like an air mail letter for a remembrance of your trip.” Ironically, it appears that the letter did not get to Curacao in time, and it was returned back to the sender in Rochester! Nice stamps.
The Duchess of Bedford went into service in 1928, so in 1930 she was a very modern ship by the standards of the day. At some 20,000 tons she was not large, but comparable in size to the Cunard vessels that were her competition. She is pictured on a Real Photo card (Figure 9), printed in England, but with no indication of the publisher.
Letters En Route
Several letters were sent to the couple while they were on their cruise. There is an undercurrent of envy in some of the letters (which underscores just how prestigious a trip such as this would have been) including one that includes “Laura is now down the cellar putting some coal in the furnace and you lucky sons of guns are down in Bermuda, sweating I suppose. It was 4 above zero here yesterday morning and to-day it is raining.”
Clearly the travelers sent out some of the De Muth postcards, because one of the letters they received notes, “Received your card from Port de France. Glad to know you are having such a wonderful time.” The De Muth postcards carry strong and unconventional travel images.
Many of the comments emphasize the winter. “Emma & Frank, Bill & I were on the toboggan last night, it sure was great. Bill got rammed in the rear end (I mean his car) by a bus.” Sounds like Northern New York State roads were in their usual treacherous winter condition!
This trip was played out in the environment which followed Black Monday on Wall Street and the accompanying stock market crash and financial meltdown. Had our travellers prepaid their trip before the meltdown took place? Would they be coming back to a personal financial disaster? We can’t tell from this material, but we can get a feel for the world financial crisis which must have cast a cloud over their vacation. One issue of the ship’s daily newspaper carries the story that “Several hours before he was to set sail for Europe, Herbert Martin, wealthy business man, fell or jumped to his death from his apartment window to Park Avenue, nine floors below.” Maybe from a bad day on the stock market?
On another day, we read that “William Fox and all other officers and directors of the Fox Film Corporation and Fox Theatres Corporation have offered to resign in an effort to avert the threatened receivership; but the creditors declined to accept their conditional offer.”
Yet another issue of the daily Canadian Pacific Wireless News includes the report that “The Local Government of Chicago is in financial distress and has failed in an attempt to float bond issues. It is feared the schools will have to close.” Imagine being on a month-long cruise with this – and other financial distress stories – being part of every day’s news.
We have seen the Welcome Home card. Other letters offer to pick the couple up at the train station if they can advise of their timing. Clearly they had a strong support group of friends.
One final thrill from an archive such as this is that it is a potential genealogical gold mine. There are names – lots of names – and communications from all these people in Rochester, New York. If I had only the De Muth postcards, or just a batch of daily ship’s newspapers, or merely a collection of menus, there would be only one window on this trip. This group has more historical color than a stained glass window. So even if you collect only one type of ephemera, when you can find a comprehensive archive like this – go for it!
John G. Sayers has completed 9 years on the Board of The Ephemera Society of America, and 7 years on the Council of the British Ephemera Society. He has been a keen collector for many years, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. All images are from the Sayers Collection at the Johnson Collection.