Thanks to John Sayers for these insights into the long voyage from Sydney to England.
I can’t resist a group of photographic images related to my collecting passion of Ocean Liners. So, when I saw a combination of a dozen postcard and photograph images taken on board the SS Euripides of the Aberdeen Line as she sailed from Australia to England in 1921, I couldn’t resist. My wallet came out and money flowed to the happy dealer at the speed of light (well, they weren’t very expensive!)
There are six photographs and six postcards, with no attribution to any photographer. Several have penciled captions which may not have been made by the original traveler. One gets that impression when a caption has a question mark after it. Figures 1 and 2 carry the caption of “Crossing the Line?” which makes me think that it may be a dealer’s guess rather than reality. Clever costumes, but were they instead for an onboard costume party, which was a normal feature of almost any voyage?
The pirate’s hat in the background to Figure 2, and the elaborate elephant outfit in Figure 1, suggest that it was an event planned by the ship’s crew and carried out by them as the ship ‘Crossed the Line’ i.e. crossed the Equator from the Southern to the Northern Hemisphere. This ceremony, featuring King Neptune, occurred as a matter of tradition and continues to this day. These costumes could have been used many times by the ship, for many ceremonies.
One of the stops on the route to England would have been in Durban, South Africa and this is probably where the photo in Figure #3 was taken. Photos 4, 5, and 6 were all taken ‘at sea’, including the jaunty First Engineer in #6.
Figures 7 and 8, postcards picturing the departure, are wonderful at capturing the emotions of the moment. You can almost watch the streamers float to the dock and hear the good wishes shouted by those on shore to those standing on the deck of the S.S. Euripides. This was an important event, considering the distance to be covered and the long time to be spent and the risks faced at sea.
The men pictured in postcards 9 and 10 are crew, but why would one want photos of groups of the crew? One’s Room Steward perhaps, and one’s Dining Room Steward(s), but why the entire lot of them?
Of course, Sydney to England by sea, with stops at several ports en route, would be a long voyage and a gregarious young man such as the one in Figure 12 would get to know many people. Note that there were no women in the crew. Men only at this stage of passenger shipping.
One of the bridges to get to know fellow passengers was mealtime and the grouping around the table in Figure 11 gives us a feeling for the moments when the ice was broken. Welcome Dinners, Gala Dinners, and other dining platforms all helped to pass the time. And of course, the Farewell Dinner, when table mates signed each other’s menus and vowed to keep in touch, brought down the curtain on the voyage.
Unfortunately, we do not know the name of the gentleman who made this voyage, but we do have a probable photograph of him on the postcard in Figure 12.
At the time of this note, the voyage was 96 years ago. The dashing young man, now no longer with us, who had perhaps already made his fortune in Australia, was heading to England to purchase an enormous country estate – or a Town House in London – or to claim an inheritance – or??? We do not know, and we will never know, but at least we have been able to enjoy part of his journey to England, almost one hundred years later!
We are grateful to John Sayers for this intriguing post, which ideally demonstrates the way in which ephemera can provide pieces of the jigsaw of social history.
One has to wonder who gave the captain this charming gift. Was it the shipping line itself, or a frequent passenger who always tried to sail with Cüppers? Captains had the power of medieval kings on board their ship. No doubt if you could ingratiate yourself with the captain, you would be given whatever you wanted. But what ship was he on when he received this presentation? Pictured is a fascinating piece of ephemera – a cigar case presented to Captain Cüppers of the North German Lloyd line on the occasion of his 100th voyage. It appears to be made of Papier Mache shaped into the form of a convenient-sized cigar case that would fit easily into a pocket of the Captain’s uniform. On one side is the inscription shown here, and on the other side is the name and the crest of the North German Lloyd shipping line. The lettering is very professional, so it may have been made and presented on shore prior to the voyage.
Postcards give us the answer. A colour postcard picturing Cüppers is undated, but the undivided back places its age near the beginning of the career of the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse which made her Maiden Voyage in 1897 and captured the Blue Riband that year. Was this Cüppers ship? Another card showing Captain Cüppers has a divided back, pictures the newer Kaiser Wilhelm II, is postally used, and the year ‘1908’ can be discerned from the postmark. We hit the proverbial Jackpot! The date matches our cigar case.
Was the Kaiser Wilhelm II a prominent ship, or just an ‘old tub’? Not just an ‘old tub’. When you name your ship after the Kaiser, it has to be the best. The Kaiser Wilhelm II made her Maiden Voyage in 1903, and in June 1906 she captured the Blue Riband for the fastest crossing of the North Atlantic. But Captain Cüppers already had a long-standing record as a captain. In an article in The Illustrated American of March 8, 1895, Captain Cüppers was pictured and included in an article profiling important German ship captains.
We can’t find what became of the Captain, but six years later the Kaiser Wilhelm II was interned in New York on the outbreak of the First War and if he were still its captain, Cüppers would have been detained in America and been subsumed into American history.
This ephemera and a large number of other Ocean Liner items 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, will continue to migrate across the Atlantic to the John Johnson Collection after lockdown!
Our wonderful and indefatigable donor, John Sayers, in another insightful post relating to the Sayers Collection of Ocean Liner Ephemera
Welcome aboard! Anyone who has been carried across the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean by plane will probably have concluded that it was a long, boring trip. Not so. Or at least not by comparison to the travellers of decades ago when ocean liners were ‘the only way to cross’.
We’re talking about days and days at sea, interrupted only by meals. For some passengers, mal de mer sharply reduced their appetites. For others, the bar was the beacon, particularly during Prohibition in America. The shipping companies were aware of the days and days of uninterrupted boredom facing passengers, so they provided games and sports as distractions.
This ‘GAMES’ booklet from the legendary S.S. Normandie describes and illustrates ‘Little Olympics Afloat’ on the expansive deck space for tennis, shuffle-board and other sports in what they describe as a ‘Stadium at Sea; A Work-out on the Waves’. Also, there was the gymnasium with its rowing machine, hand-ball, and a shooting gallery; and Sun-Deck Sports and Sea Air including Tennis and Trap-Shooting. Exhausting!
For the 12 days between Honolulu and Yokohama in 1931, the S.S. President McKinley offered a daily schedule of sports capped off with a ‘Gymkhana’ on the final day of the trip.
Other ships offered Bridge and a variety of other games, and on board a British troopship in 1940 there was even a boxing match between members of the Royal Air Force (R.A.F.) and the British Army! The trooping experience must have been a stressful one, because it was December 21, 1940 on board the Viceroy of India of the P&O Line. She had been requisitioned by the Government and converted for trooping service only the month before, and these men were off to battle – somewhere!
This material, and a vast quantity of other ephemera capturing social, shipping, historical, and commercial information in The Sayers Collection, continues to migrate across the Atlantic to the John Johnson Collection at the Bodleian Library.
We are delighted to announce a major donation of Ocean Liner ephemera: the Sayers Collection. To launch it, we interviewed the collector & donor: John Sayers, seen here with his very supportive wife, Judith, on the roof terrace of the Weston Library.
What sparked your interest in ocean liners and, in particular, the ephemera relating to them?
A combination of personal recollection and a lifelong interest in history. The personal recollection dates back to travelling with my parents on the RMS Queen Elizabeth; the interest was sharpened by my history major in university and in particular a fascination with both design and social history.
How (and with what items) did your collection begin?
I began with enamel souvenir lapel pins, like the one that I brought back to Canada in 1954 as an RMS Queen Elizabeth souvenir gift for my late aunt Beth (you know, the maiden aunt who has everything!). That interest expanded to other three-dimensional objects with enamelling. That focus was then enlarged by the first foray into ephemera, to reminisce about meals on board [Figure #1], baggage labels [Figure #2], and all the other printed reminders of life on a great ship. However, I discovered such a broad information landscape in ephemera that I eventually divested my three-dimensional objects to become completely immersed in ephemera.
What did you aim to achieve through the collection? Has that aim changed?
In terms of ephemera, the objective was to provide a record of what took place on board a ship; what happened beforehand to plan the trip; and any effects afterward where there is a relevant follow-up experience.
The change of the aim occurred when I discovered that there was a further enlargement to my scope. The scope had originally been established as North Atlantic steamships. However, I came to realize that those that plied the South Atlantic were also interesting and relevant. Then I discovered Pacific Ocean shipping.
Part of the attraction was the beautiful artwork on the Japanese NYK Line ephemera [Figure #3], and the equally attractive designs produced by the Pacific Mail Steamship Company [Figure #4] and the Dollar Line. I believe that the way to describe this phenomenon is ‘topic creep’.
How has the collection evolved?
As well as the directions I have already mentioned, the collection has gained a greater reflection of social history and business elements. As with most collections that have evolved over 40+ years, there has been an increasing appreciation of the nuances.
For example, as well as First War Hospital Ships that served during the campaign in the Eastern Mediterranean, there was a Cunard tour in 1935 to Gallipoli, advertised in a Cunard promotional booklet, to revisit the terrain and the landmarks of the First War [Figure #5]. I would guess that the primary participants in the tour would have been the next of kin of those that did not come back alive, but one speculates on the motivations of those who sailed in 1936 on that Cunarder. A similar event occurred in 1936 with the pilgrimage of over 5,000 people from Canada to attend the unveiling of the Vimy Memorial.
Are you still collecting?
Yes. Passionately. I have described my collection as a pointillist painting, that continues to need more ‘dots’ to add to the clarity of the image.
What are your favourite items?
Shipping ephemera with a tinge of social or design elements. For example, I recently acquired a Real Photo postcard captioned “On Board SS Grantully Castle en route to Capetown, 27.6.14” [Fig #6]. The beginning of the First War was only two months away. The young children pictured in the deck scene would not have been directly affected, but their fathers, if not already in the military, would certainly soon have been.
What insights into social history does this material offer?
The material in the Sayers Collection touches upon issues such as; class differences; matters relating to the status of women; the struggles of immigrants; the habit of smoking; the treatment of children; racial stereotypes; and troopship life in both World Wars.
Specifically, the frustrations of women and the tinder for the sparks for the women’s rights movement are quite evident in some material. For example, a 1930s postcard image of a Smoking Room among the 100 or so of them in my collection was later displaced by an identical image on a card written by a woman bemoaning the fact that she is not allowed into this men’s domain.
What inspired you to donate your collection to the John Johnson Collection in the Bodleian Library?
We have been supporters of the John Johnson Collection for over a decade and during that time we have come to appreciate the professionalism applied to the Collection and their broad appreciation of ephemera. An emotional reason is my British parentage and the massive role that Britain has played in global shipbuilding and shipping operations over the years.
The Sayers Collection reflects the role of Britain as a major influence in global shipping operations, whether it be as the builder of Canadian Pacific’s 1930s premier liner, the RMS Empress of Britain [Figure #7]; as the operator of ships such as Cunard’s RMS Berengaria, originally the German liner Imperator, seized as war reparations after the First War [Figure #8]; or as a major global competitor to shipping companies of several other nations (whose ephemera is also well represented in the Collection for purposes of comparison).
This collection will add extensively to the ocean liner material collected by John Johnson, to provide many more opportunities for study and research.
How do you hope that future users/scholars will explore your collection?
For the design, business, history, or social history scholar, whatever their thesis, there is a good possibility that material in the collection will provide a valuable resource. Alternatively, the material may trigger a line of study for those seeking a fresh avenue to pursue.
There are opportunities for study and research on many planes. As a Chartered Accountant, I can appreciate the opportunities to study the various business aspects of the industry, ranging from advertising and promotion (an elaborate 1876 Cunard commemorative book appears to represent one of the earliest examples of modern-day ‘co-operative advertising’) [Figure #9], to the costs of menu offerings over many decades. In regard to the latter, did costs increase using constant dollars, and did they reflect the same percentage of passage charges? What culinary offerings have been added and deleted over the years? Why?
It would be useful if at some stage all the Passenger Lists could be digitized and made searchable. As well as the Cunard ones already delivered to Oxford, there are more to follow from other lines. The end result would be a useful database for genealogists, students of patterns of military deployment, celebrity hunters (at one time they all had to travel by sea!), industrialists, and the frequency of the use of servants, to name a few topics.
What advice would you give people starting a collection today?
Collect something that has meaning for you. And make sure that you collect ephemera! The great delight of ephemera is that the universe is not defined, so (unlike postage stamps or cigarette cards, for example) you never know what you are going to find that illuminates your knowledge or memories of a particular topic. When a collector describes an acquisition as something that ‘speaks to me’ he or she is describing the impact that the piece has upon their memories or their knowledge. I never purchase anything on line. I have to see it. That means going to postcard and ephemera fairs, which my wife, Judith, and I enjoy immensely.
Don’t feel that every specimen has to be many years old. All ephemera was new once! I like the 1920s and 1930s, and objects of that period such as menus [Figure #10] do not have to cost a fortune, while often providing fascinating cover artwork and food choices inside. Whether your interest is fashion, food, design, autos, ships, planes, social history – or even your local city or town – there is material out there to stimulate your interest.