Long Live the King: The Italian Liner, the Rex

Today’s post comes to you courtesy of Dr. Laurence Miller, former director of libraries at Florida International University, and, since his retirement, our most dedicated volunteer cataloger at The Wolfsonian–FIU. In 2008, Dr. Miller donated his extensive collection of post-Second World War cruise line and ocean liner ephemera to The Wolfsonian’s library, where it perfectly complemented Mitchell Wolfson, Jr.’s collection of prewar materials. Earlier this month, Maurizio Eliseo, an expert on the Rex, paid a visit to the museum and was introduced to our holdings by Dr. Miller and our curators. Here is Dr. Miller’s report:

Recently, the staff of The Wolfsonian were honored to receive a visit from Maurizio Eliseo, the well-known author of several notable books concerning famous Italian liners and the maritime tradition that they represent. Thanks to his efforts, the liner Rex may be the best-documented liner in the history of North Atlantic travel. The 51,062 gross ton liner, completed in the summer of 1931, won the coveted Blue Riband, the transatlantic speed record in 1933, and held it until 1935 when bested by the French Line’s Normandie.


The WolfsonianFIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Maurizio’s books each provide nearly 300 pages of documentation and contain virtually every known photographic illustration of the Rex. A forthcoming third volume on the vessel will be translated into English and accessible to most liner enthusiasts.

The highlight of Mr. Eliseo’s visit came during his visit to the library, where he had the opportunity to peruse two of the largest books in the collection. Both of the oversized tomes include detailed drawings of the décor and fittings, and specifications of materials and finishes to be used in the design of the interiors and furnishings of the second and third-class public areas and staterooms of the Rex.







The WolfsonianFIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection


The WolfsonianFIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The Rex’s aristocratic profile commanded respect and it was as imposing in external appearance as it was beautiful in its interiors.


The WolfsonianFIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Many of the brochures, deck plans, menus, and other ephemera in The Wolfsonian’s library collection focus more on the first-class accommodations aboard the Rex. 


The WolfsonianFIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

While photographic images capture the reality of the ship, artists’ renderings prepared for advertisements published by the Italian Line during the Fascist era tended to exaggerate the size and scale of public rooms and decks.






The WolfsonianFIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The illustrated brochures are useful, however, in providing an idea of the colors used and of the general elegance of Italian interior ship design in this period. The brochures focusing on first-class public areas also depict the formal dress and attire of the era. Adjusted for inflation, first-class fares for the Rex are comparable to first and business-class fares today, making these accommodations the exclusive preserve of the elite. With the divisions between classes of accommodation strictly enforced on the Mediterranean route, affluent passengers could expect to be surrounded by “the better sort.” The experience for first-class passengers aboard Rex was akin to being a temporary resident in a palace.


The WolfsonianFIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

If some passengers loved the majestic feel of sailing aboard the Rex, others preferred the more modern interiors of the Conte di Savoia, with its elegant, innovative designs by Gustavo Pulitzer.





The WolfsonianFIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The Conte di Savoia’s first-class smoking room probably provided the inspiration for the ballroom on board the Cunard Line’s Queen Mary 2. The writer was asked to choose a few interior illustrations that he thought worth replicating in the modern liner, and took an illustration of this space to the Ft. Lauderdale offices of those working on interiors for the new Cunard ship. Working within the strictures of current fire safety regulations—which limit the longitudinal size of interior spaces—the designers tried to capture the elegance of an earlier era of Atlantic travel. Touches of the Normandie can also be identified aboard QM2.

The Wolfsonian has a particularly fine collection of post-Second World War Costa and Sitmar brochures in the Laurence Miller Collection that Mr. Eliseo also had a chance to examine.



The WolfsonianFIU, Laurence Miller Collection

My first ocean-going voyage took place in 1957 on board Sitmar’s Castel Felice, a student and emigrant ship, which sailed from Montreal to New York in four days for the very reasonable rate of $55.



The WolfsonianFIU, Laurence Miller Collection

Mr. Eliseo wrote an excellent history of the company, The Sitmar Liners and the V Ships, published by Carmania Press in 1998, in the wake of another beautiful book about the Costa Liners published the previous year and co-authored by Paolo Piccine.



~ by "The Chief" on August 23, 2018.

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