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Rose Mary
By Rosemary McKittrick
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Empress of Britain; color lithographic poster; in 1931; 36 inches by 24 inches; sold for $3,120. Photo courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.
Designed for luxury, the “Empress of Britain” was a giant oceanliner full of seagoing splendor and surprises as she prepared for her inaugural launch on June 11, 1930.

Decorated by artists of the British Royal Academy, the ship was an interesting mix of cross-cultural tradition and art deco glamour. Upright and imposing, the Empress was a floating city complete with swimming pool and tennis courts.

A Chinese motif rounded out her smoking room. Her “Mayfair” lounge was Renaissance in design, her card room had a Spanish motif, and the first class dining room was contemporary.

The ship’s accommodations ranged from extravagant suites to tiny inside cabins. Two of the largest suites even had their own balconies. All of the cabins had a washbasin and some were equipped with full bathrooms.

Pale blue columns with coral pink curtains surrounded the ballroom. An oval-shaped ceiling, picturing plenty of blue sky and white stars dangled above the dance floor.

The officers and crew almost always outnumbered her passengers. Service was the key ingredient on this luxury cruises. The Empress even had a gym equipped with bicycling machines, electric horses and punch balls.

She didn’t sail the most high profile routes from Europe to New York. Her job was to travel from England to Canada.

It was a big day for the Canadian Pacific Railway Company when they launched the Empress. She was their biggest and fastest liner to date. Edward, Prince of Wales personally chose the name and was onboard to christen her.

"I name this ship ‘Empress of Britain’. I wish success to her and all who sail in her," he said. Glued to their radios, the whole world seemed to be listening to the first universal broadcast of her launching.

Comfort and fashion that’s what ocean liners like the “Empress of Britain” offered. King George VI and Queen Elizabeth even chose the liner for their return to England after visiting Canada in 1939.

Ultimately, the “Empress of Britain’s” fate was to be a troopship. A year later in 1940; she was torpedoed by a U-boat and sunk. At 42,348 gross tons, she was the largest liner lost during the World War II. Of the 643 on board, 598 were rescued.

Opulence is the magic behind ocean liner memorabilia for today’s collector. These floating cities were larger-then-life, decorated like scenes out of French oil paintings.

Replaced by jet travel, they ultimately became a thing of the past.

Vintage souvenirs like posters, menus, launch brochures, and deck plans offered to the original passengers help keep the era alive today.

The original posters printed by steamship companies and supplied to travel agencies have become increasingly valuable. Their worth depends on condition, size and the ships associated with them.

On May 22, Swann Galleries, New York, featured oceanliner memorabilia from the Frank O. Braynard Collection at auction. Braynard enjoyed a life long passion for ships and was founder and program director for the South Street Seaport Museum in Manhattan. He was also curator of the American Merchant Marine Museum in Kings Point, N.Y.

Here are some current values for vintage posters and artwork.

Oceanliner Posters & Artwork

Greek Lines; 20 posters; travel agency color publicity prints; various sizes; circa 1950-1960s; $660.

Aquitania; oil on board; by George Tamaro; shows ship in dry dock; inscribed to Frank Braynard; 29 ˝ inches by 23 ˝ inches; 1960; $1,200.

Queen Elizabeth; Queen Mary promotional poster; color lithograph poster; by Walter Thomas; England, April 1947; 38 inches by 23 inches; $2,040.

Empress of Britain; color lithographic poster; in 1931; 36 inches by 24 inches; $3,120.

Holland-America Line; color lithograph poster; by Ten Broek; 38 inches by 25 inches; $3,600.

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