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Mementoes of luxury cruises can give modern collectors a fascinating insight into the golden age of sea travel.
The development of the steam engine influenced ships even more than trains. It led to an explosion in ship building in the mid-19th century, when ships were mainly used for transporting mail. By the turn of the century large, often opulent, cruise liners were being built by vast shipping companies such as the Cunard Line and its competitor, the White Star Line, owned from 1902 by J. Pierpont Morgan’s International Mercantile Marine company. Ships included the Olympic, Titanic, Lusitania and Mauretania.
Another surge occurred after the 1920s and 1930s, when the Normandie, Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth were built. Used as hospitals during wartime, they played host to many of the wealthy and famous during peacetime.
The great ocean liners were matchless symbols of leisurely luxury. Their heyday was in the 1920s and 1930s, before World War II blighted international travel and before the increasing range, sophistication and affordability of air travel in the 1960s and 1970s 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.
The ocean liners sold souvenirs of the voyage to the passengers, always with the name of the ship prominently displayed. These included posters, prints, photographs and postcards, toys and models, miniature lifebuoys, as well as mugs, ashtrays and paperweights, all emblazoned with the company's name and badge or a picture of the liner involved.
However, passengers would take their own souvenirs from the voyage, and these unofficial mementoes included anything that could be smuggled off the ship, from pieces of cutlery or crockery, passenger lists, wine lists, concert programs 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, and it is easy to get started, because even those with little money and storage space can collect ephemera.