The brief life and tragic end of the Royal Mail Ship Titanic coincided with the first “golden age” of picture postcards, which lasted from 1907 to 1915, and postcards form an important part of the ship’s legacy. However, relatively few photographs exist of Titanic. Most images purporting to be the ship actually picture her slightly older, nearly identical sister, Olympic. Here are some examples from the National Postal Museum’s collection and the exhibition Fire & Ice: Hindenburg and Titanic.
Numerous pre-sinking picture postcards touted Titanic’s status as the largest ship in the world by impressing both sender and recipient with statistics about her size and cost. Here, publishers Walton of Belfast repurposed their postcard of Olympic, simply changing the title to Titanic. However, they forgot to change the accompanying text, which still refers to Olympic and shows the older ship’s launch date (October 20, 1910 vs. May 31, 1911 for Titanic). The postcard is unused.
One of the few surviving picture postcards actually mailed aboard Titanic, this card was published by Raphael Tuck and Sons of London. Part of their “Oilette” series of cards (designed to resemble miniature oil paintings) it, too, features Olympic standing in for Titanic. Postcards such as this would have been available from stationers, dockside vendors and in the liners’ barber shops.
Signed “Love, Ugly” by an unknown passenger and addressed to “Miss Gwen,” this card was postmarked aboard Titanic and sent ashore with the mail, probably at Queenstown, Ireland, the ship’s last port of call before heading westbound across the Atlantic.
The Tuck’s Oilette card was reissued after the disaster. Notice the different text on the message side.
In this Titanic memorial postcard, the copious amount of smoke emanating from the liner’s fourth funnel is an artist’s error. A “dummy” funnel, it was used for ventilation and to heighten the impression of size and strength. This card was mailed at Halifax, Nova Scotia on May 11, 1912; Titanic victims were being buried in Halifax cemeteries as late as June.
Postcard publishers wanting to capitalize on the market for Titanic disaster postcards were panicked by the news that the Cunard Line’s RMS Carpathia had rescued Titanic’s survivors. The pokey little vessel had plied Atlantic waters for nearly ten years in relative obscurity. Neither large, nor fast, nor elegant, few photographers had bothered to capture her image. Here an unknown publisher has—almost incredibly—resorted to altering a photograph of RMS Mauretania, fastest ship on the Atlantic. Three of Mauretania’s four funnels have been removed and the name Carpathia written on the bow. The postcard was mailed in New York on May 8, 1912.
Many survivors remembered that Titanic’s eight musicians played “Nearer My God to Thee” immediately before the ship sank. The hymn became a popular theme of Titanic memorial postcards. The ship pictured at the top is, of course, Olympic. None of Titanic’s musicians survived.
About the Author
Daniel A. Piazza, Curator of Philately, collects and writes about the stamps and postal history of the U.S. during the Bureau period (1894-1978) as well as the Italian peninsula. He sits on the board of governors of the Vatican Philatelic Society and edits its journal, Vatican Notes. His other national memberships include the American Philatelic Society, American Philatelic Research Library, American First Day Cover Society, and Writers Unit #30. Locally, he belongs to both the Washington Stamp Collectors Club and the Baltimore Philatelic Society. In addition to his philatelic activities, Piazza is an academic historian specializing in U.S. History to 1760. He holds degrees in the subject from Wagner College (B.A., 1998) and Syracuse University (M.A., 2004) and has completed the coursework for his Ph.D.