Bygone Treasures - Momentoes From A Grand Adventure

By Michael Rice

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While the age of steam is long past, readers may have childhood memories of train trips through the Rockies, or even more exciting voyages across the Atlantic to visit almost forgotten relatives or see the sights in countries known only through the pages of National Geographic or the Boy's Own Annual.

There were several distinct periods of travel during the past century. Many Canadians arrived as immigrants, their worldly possessions newspaper-wrapped in tea chests or packed in battered leather suitcases. Their focus was on life in a new land, and ship-board souvenirs were practical in nature, likely made of paper, and included ticket folders, baggage labels and passenger lists.

Through the 1920s and 1930s, those families who could afford it, indulged in the "Grand Tour of Europe," taking in museums, cathedrals and art galleries, while staying at fascinating hotels and cruising on the Rhine. Following the Second World War, there was another wave of overseas trips. Veterans returned with their families for a fresh look at a land seen only through the eyes of war.

Imagine a trip from Victoria, B.C. to Europe in the 1930s. Starting out to Vancouver on the SS Princess Charlotte of the B.C. Coast Steamship Company, there was just enough time to pick up a menu and sailing schedule, and perhaps a cup and saucer from the dining room. Collectors avidly seek anything and everything, no matter how inconsequential it may appear, bearing the logo or a ship name from the B.C. Coast Service or from the Union Steamship Company.

From Vancouver, the train offered up playing cards, glassware and china and, if a porter could be sweet-talked, perhaps a silver-plated creamer and sugar bowl. A deck of railway playing cards showing scenes across Canada, when complete with jokers and in its original box can bring $20 to $30 on today's market. Look among stored odds and ends for items marked with the logos of the CPR or the CN, and for dated items such as train schedules.

Once aboard a ship from Montreal, headed for Southampton, there was a wealth of free or nominally priced items. The crew guided passengers through games of shuffleboard and "horse races," which provided score sheets and tally cards. Other free material included baggage labels, daily menus, wireless daily newspapers, deck plans, gangway passes and paper drink coasters. Gift shops offered souvenirs such as spoons, miniature ship bells or metal ale tankards, featuring the shipping line logo and often the name of the ship.

Also available were sailor dolls with the ship name on the cap tally, blazer badges and a range of inexpensive jewelry. Brooches in the form of a ship's wheel with the ship name are very collectable.

Most in demand with collectors are items from the White Star Line, of Titanic infamy, followed by Cunard, whose ships included the Queen Mary, the CPR, with their Empress and Duchess ships, and scores of other lines, whose vessels crossed the oceans until the end of the steam era in the early 1960s.

When it comes to paper souvenirs, older is better, with baggage labels bringing $3 and up apiece, and deck plans starting at $10. Values on purchased souvenirs vary with the shipping line and the ship herself. A souvenir spoon from the Empress of France rates $10, while a wheel brooch from the Aquitania sells for $50.

Ashore in Europe, the suitcase filled quickly with mementoes. There were labels from hotels, brochures and pamphlets from famous buildings, ornate menus and miniature Eiffel Towers. Most of these do not have great individual value, but they were saved in small bundles, and values add up. If the family took time from travelling to attend, for example, a championship golf tournament in Scotland, or a premier league football game in England - and kept the program - these are worth significant money. Collectors will pay hundreds for a single-sheet day program from a prewar British Open golf tournament.

Popular souvenirs picked up at resorts in England were small delicate china pieces bearing the crest of the local town. The best of these were made by Goss (the name's on the bottom), and came in every imaginable shape from Roman urns to little busts of Churchill. Values start at $5 and range up to $50 for unusual designs.

Most of this is from a simpler era, when travel was a great adventure rather than a hectic annual prepackaged exercise. This was a time of sad-eyed seaside donkeys, the whistle and smoke of a railway engine and singsongs in the grand salon of an ocean liner at sea.

Don't throw out these souvenirs. Collectors would love to add them to their collections, and help sellers buy that next trip to Reno.

Next time: Milady's Dressing Table.

Comments and suggestions for future columns can be sent to Michael Rice at Box 86 Saanichton, B.C. V8M 2C3 or

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