An ocean cruise on one of the great ships of the 1930s evokes a world of indolent pleasure - of long hot days and long cool drinks.
The great ocean liners were matchless symbols of leisurely luxury. Their heyday was in the 1920s and 1930s, before
World War 2 blighted international travel and before the increasing range and sophistication of aeroplanes virtually killed the passenger trade for ships. Some of the most glamorous
destinations were in the Orient, but the journey from Europe to the USA (or vice versa) was the most famous and the most lucrative sea route. The fastest liners took four days to do the Atlantic crossing, so obviously they could not compete with aeroplanes in terms of speed.
In the great days of the 'floating cities', the finest ships of different countries and companies competed not only to be the fastest but also the most glamorous craft to
sail the high seas. The French Line's Ile
de France and Normandie, for example, were regarded as masterpieces of modern design. Their passenger lists were studded with the names of film stars and other celebrities.
The aura of these cruises lingers in the popular imagination through old films and books and a cornucopia of objects now sought after as souvenirs. Many official souvenirs were produced by the companies themselves for sale on the voyage. These included posters, prints, photographs and postcards, toys and models, as well as mugs, ashtrays and paperweights, all emblazoned with the company's name and badge or a picture of the liner involved.
And the Golden Age of Travel
by Harold Darling
Unofficial mementoes included anything that could be smuggled off the ship, from pieces of cutlery or crockery to brass fittings that the determined souvenir hunter would have to unscrew. Even steering wheels and flags were not safe. The less adventurous (and more honest) would content themselves with elegantly illustrated menus and wine lists, programmes of concerts and organized games, and other pieces of printed ephemera that reflected the
glamour and fun of an ocean cruise.
Shipping memorabilia attracts collectors of all
ages and from all walks of life. It is easy to get started, because even those with little money
and storage space can collect postcards and travel cigarette cards. Shipping companies frequently
had postcards printed; usually they reproduced photographs or paintings of their
liners. Often the paintings were specially commissioned from well-known marine artists.
From these simplest types of card it is only a short step to other types of printed matter,
tickets, menus and labels.
As with all form of collecting, the most important thing is to choose an area you are interested in personally. Many people specialise in items from one specific company or ship, while others take a broader view and are more interested in a particular object's appearance than in its associations.
In London, the major auction houses all hold one or two marine auctions a year; usually these are timed to coincide with the Boat Show or Cowes Week. Specialist shops dealing with liner memorabilia are also worth
visiting, to help prospective collectors get a feel for the range and availability of their chosen objects.
When it comes to storage and display, you should treat liner ephemera in much the same way that you would printed material from any other field of collecting. Labels, cards, and similar objects are best kept unfolded in albums with plastic leaves. You should guard carefully against damp, which can easily ruin printed material.
Posters should either be framed or rolled up in cardboard tubes. Folding them will damage the image.