Luxury at Sea

06/28/2018     News and Film

Long before the first commercial airlines were even a consideration, luxury transatlantic travel was defined by passenger liner ships. At the beginning of the 20th century, the waters were dominated by the British companies Cunard, owners of the Lusitania, and the White Star Line (perhaps most infamously known as for the RMS Titanic), as well as the French Line Compagnie Générale Transatlantique (CGT), owners of the S.S. Normandie. Around the 1920s, as the focus of transatlantic travel shifted from necessity to tourism, ship companies took note, offering Americans and Europeans alike so-called “superliners,” floating luxury hotels meant to be as much a destination in and of themselves as passengers intended destination abroad. A trip between New York and London took close to two weeks, and first-class travelers, accustomed to the luxuries provided by grand, five-star hotels, came to expect the same level of service at sea. And they were not disappointed: Charles-Frederic Mewes, designer of the famed Hotel Ritz in Paris, was commissioned by the Hamburg America Line to design several of the fleet 's ships, including the S.S. Vaterland and the S.S. Imperator, in 1912. Two years later, Cunard hired Arthur Davis, Mewes ' partner, to design the RMS Aquitania. Art critic Bernard Berenson took to calling it “Ritzonia,” for the upscale hotel mimicry. Launched in 1932, the Art Deco masterpiece S.S. Normandie was built at Saint-Nazaire, France, by CGT, was the largest and fastest passenger ship afloat. The decoration, planned by architect Roger-Henri Expert, utilized work by such important French designers and artists as Jean de Brunhoff, René Lalique, Pierre Patout, Nicolas Castille, and Jules Leleu. Freeman 's May 22 British & European Furniture & Decorative Arts auction included a set of six Art Deco dining chairs from the S.S. Normandie (Lot 406, sold for $15,000). The chairs were designed by Pierre Patout for Neuveu-Nelson, and came from the liner 's First Class Dining Salon.A selection of nearly 200 pieces of Ocean Liner memorabilia will kick-off the July 10 Collector 's Sale. Highlights from the memorabilia presented include Lot 44, A scale model of the S.S. Normandie repainted as the Queen Elizabeth and an S.S. Normandie decorative pillow, 20th century (estimate $800-1,200). A porcelain souvenir box in the form of the S.S. Normandie (Lot 45, estimate $200-250), will also be offered. Lot 53, a French Line souvenir ashtray in the form of a ship's funnel or smokestack from the S.S. France, circa 1960s (estimate $350-475), is a whimsical decorative object for even a non-smoker. A set of Cunard Line assorted ephemera from the Aquitania (Lot 22, estimate $375-500) includes menu cards, a deck plan, passenger list, and even a book signed and inscribed by the Captain of the liner. A group of approximately 74 White Star Line post cards, including three vintage cards from the Titanic (Lot 193, estimate $250-400), as well as 170 cards from the Cunard Line, including the Queen Mary, Aquitania, and Lusitania (Lot 30, estimate $250-400, will also be up for auction. There are several lots of porcelain and tablewares from various liners, including a group of seven pieces from the RMS Queen Mary, comprising a teapot, teacup and saucer, and sugar dish (Lot 29, estimate $200-300). Two CGT teacups and saucers, along with a set of six French Line coasters, fabricated in Limoges (Lot 57, estimate $75-125) promise to elevate the average tea time.All but two lots in the sale come from a Rittenhouse Square collector, and the majority of the lots offered carry estimates below $500. The Collector 's Sale, now in its second year, is aimed at emerging, young collectors, who are perhaps intimidated by the auction process. The unusual, quirky selection of lots in the three-day sale, beginning with Ocean Liner Memorabilia, will no doubt attract new and seasoned collectors with an eye for the unique and historic.View the Catalogue Now