Today’s blog post comes to you courtesy of Library Assistant Michel Potop. Mr. Potop has a background and interest in maritime and naval history and has been working to process and catalog a recently arrived shipment of ocean liner books donated to our collection by Thomas Ragan. Here is his report:
Thanks to another significant contribution of reference and rare materials made by our generous patron, Thomas C. Ragan to The Wolfsonian-FIU, the library now enjoys an even greater collection of holdings related to cruise lines and maritime culture in Europe and the Americas.
This post will look at two of the Ragan donations: one, an American children’s book; the other, a Dutch sticker book.
The first book looks at the way the naval history and traditions of the Merchant Marine traditions were presented to children and young adult readers. Between the late 19th and early twentieth centuries, the United States Merchant Marine’s importance was frequently overshadowed by interest in the U.S.’s naval military might. Ironically, military conflict fanned a revival of the civilian navy during the First World War. During the conflict, most European merchant vessels were engaged in the war effort, and trade between the United States and Europe was negatively impacted. Because North American industries relied heavily on their trans-Atlantic trade partners for the transportation of goods, , the American economy suffered. To rectify the situation, the United States worked to encourage an enthusiasm for the development of U.S.-flag shipping and a stronger civilian Merchant Marine.
My Book of Ships, is a children’s book published by the Saalfield Publishing Company in Akron, Ohio immediately after the First World War in 1919. Its cover depicts two young American children waving to ships. Interestingly, the ship’s sailors are guided safely through the dark clouds (of the war years?) by a lighthouse beacon topped by a cross.
In an age when more middle class American families had the means to travel, the book illustrated themes of leisure and onboard entertainment the new passenger liners.
Other illustrations were designed to stimulate an interest in the predominantly upper-class pursuit of yacht racing.
Children’s imagination and their curiosity was not neglected either. The mysteries surrounding such gigantic ships were skillfully described and illustrated so that even young children could understand and familiarize themselves with vessels and their protocols.
Vivid colors were used to depict the elegant steamships and other vessels in drawings designed to captivate the attention of children.
One such illustration depicts a bright red tugboat.
An old-fashioned but beautiful schooner is also pictured with all her sails raised.
Thomas Ragan’s recent gift included a sticker album as well. Titled Ocean Giants, this album was written and illustrated by G. J. Frans Naerebout, and was published sometime around 1952 by A. Hooijimer & Zonen in Barendrecht. Interestingly, even though this book was published in Netherlands and in the Dutch language, the ship selected for the cover illustration was American, and that the other ships represented inside included ships of many flags and nations.
The United States had been built with the intention of claiming the transatlantic speed record.
In the chapter titled “Giants of the Seven Seas,” the British passenger ship Lusitania (sunk by a German U-Boat in 1915) is masterfully depicted steaming at high speed.
Designed for collecting enthusiasts of all ages, many pages of the book left room for reader interaction, encouraging them to collect and fill the book with color stickers printed for that purpose. The stickers include images of well-known ocean liners…
…and steamers from the famous White Star Line.
Sticker book illustrations include a map of the routes of the steamship line companies.
A particular favorite image of mine is this one of the pride and joy of the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique, (or, French Line), the Art Deco ocean liner, the Normandie.
At a time when nationalism was rampant and the drums of war were beating, writers and illustrators managed to inspire patriotic feelings of pride for their country’s naval savoir-faire and love for the sea, without emphasizing the militaristic approach so endemic of the time.