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Titanic Centenary

Started by Mechanic, August 11, 2008, 12:35:19 PM

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On the following site I found a couple of pars that indicates thermographic printing  was in general use in 1873 at least with the White Star Line.

Most importantly, everything on paper in first-class on White Star vessels--whether it was letterheads, menus, notices, wine lists, stationery/envelopes, etc., was thermographically printed. Thermography is a chemical process which produced a glossy, raised image by using heat or infrared light. The image was first printed by letterpress using an adhesive ink which was coated with a fusible resin containing pigment (red for the burgee) and metallic powder (gold for the company logo, Oceanic Steam Navigation Co. [OSNC] as examples. (Of those illustrated in this article, the ship names are also thermographically printed). When passed under a heater or infrared lamp the coating fused and raised to give a sharp, clean image. From the reverse side of the paper or card the process resembles blind embossing. The White Star Line burgee, company logo and the ship's name, were therefore, "raised" on first-class menus, etc. Upon examining the "Rosemead menu" the White Star burgee, OSNC logo and "SS Titanic" isn't raised, but simply printed in red, gold and black ink. That's the critical detail.

Thermographic printing was used on White Star Line vessels at least as early as 1873 (Mr. Louden-Brown has an item from first class with that date). It was costly because of the large number of sheets spoilt in the process and also because passengers took more sheets of letter paper then they really needed. Therefore by the mid-1920s White Star began to replace this type of printed stationery with conventional letterpress or offset lithography printed items.

The site below gives a little history of photothermographic composition which may have been the origin of the idea for thermographic printing.

The first reported photothermographic composition was disclosed by Fox Talbot in 1847; in this case thermal development was achieved over "...a gentle fire"! In the intervening years, a number of other proposals for photothermographic materials have been offered, many of them employing silver oxalate, as both the light sensitive and the image forming component.

George Finn (Mechanic)
Gold Coast


... great. Thanks for your effort.

So, thanks to the TITANIC article we know, that it excisted already in 1873 ... so, if anyone finds a old books about the printers at that time, please let me know. Maybe some old school books teach about thermographic printing??


Jeff Zilles [jeffo]


That damn 'Rosemead Menu' again.

I was going to ignore the small but glaring error this time round and leave it be because it had been dealt with before in these columns  --   but if left unrefuted the error will possibly grow to be accepted as axiomatic, for already learned and well-informed members of this forum have been seduced by the pronouncements of a respected historian and hyphenated family name.

This is a bit windy but the penance is worth it to put the matter right !!

A number of very wordy but informed posts dealing with the Titanic stationery sparked by a thread on shipboard Print Shops which graced the Forum in one of Metaltype's  former incarnations - unfortunately no longer available to us in its entirety -  but there is that particular bit posted from here at the 'Cave' which refutes the learned but I fear mis-informed Mr. Louden-Brown's description of what constitutes  the physical appearance of a Virkotype piece and which I will dare to post again,  not only the relevant paragraph but the whole jolly shebang.


A short lead in to start - from memory, a 'Titanic' Menu had appeared on E-bay  or somewhere and some tracking down led to the City of Rosemead Chamber of Commerce  50th Anniversary commemoration of the sinking of the RMS Titanic on April 14 at The Rosemead High School with a dinner served to duplicate that of the fateful night. 

I believe that the whole transript of the Rosemead Commemoration can be accessed through this link ---  -  I tried this morning and it is still there.

The question was raised, I reckon in our case through the forum, of the authenticity of the menu for sale and raised a deal of discussion about the production of the perfectly legitimate Rosemead repro..

Now read on . . . .
Thursday, February 23, 2006

Good thing, the cat's amongst the pigeons, and Dan [Williams] has raised a point of legitimate doubt regarding the authenticity of the illustrated pieces - to wit - 'the ship is sinking, grab a menu' -  and to further quote Dan, 'mmmmm !!! '

A bit of explaination about what sparked this thingo off.

I was interested to try to find out what sort of equipment the print shop on the Titanic may have had - the Cruise Ship Thread - and perhaps whether or not there was a barely used Model 1 with a line still hanging at the bottom of the Atlantic.

Information so far gleaned leads me to believe that the operation was a hand set one - stock stationery was overprinted with the necessary culinary information as required - and the stationery blanks were no different on the Titanic to any other vessel of the White Star Line.

[If my memory serves me right, a later post by Ken Smith showed this to be so and I believe he dug up the printer's name and from somewhere later the assistant printer's name turned up which I do not recall except that it appeared to be of Indian or Middle Eastern origin. JZ - today.]

All White Star stationery items were supplied by Liverpool Printing and Stationery Co. and menu blanks, dissimilar for first, second and third class, conformed to stock sizes for all White Star liners.

At some places in this bumf I will reinforce my assertions with a couple of quotes from research done by Paul Louden-Brown who supplied most of the information to the Society mentioned further on and who is compiling a definitive reference work on the White Star Line and produced many of the facts used in an article by Karen Kamuda of 'The Titanic Historical Society' to which I am endebted for hard substance  -  though daring to nit-pick and differ in opinion in the area in which I have a reasonable amount of practical experience - the printed specimen.

References to thermography, or where I beg to differ, steel plate embossing  on the menu,  would be restricted to just the red burgee at the top and the gold OSNC logo directly underneath - the rest would be relief printed 'in house' or rather 'on board' - as long as it lasted.

The First Class stationery on White Star ships was really top class - I quote - 'Menu cards and other pre-printed blanks were letterpress printed in the ship's own printshop. These same blanks, the ones made for first-class, had edges of 22k gold--another underlying element of understated elegance--subtle appearances that White Star adopted on everyday items reflecting a standard for quality.'

I contend that if you are fastidious enough to use real gold edges on your menu blanks you are not going to spoil the effect by printing the rest Virko / thermo  [The Poor Man's Embossing]  - you will go the whole hog and emboss it properly.

Mr. Louden-Brown had access to genuine White Star menu blanks and in his assessment of the sample describes the thermographuc process accurately but then makes the faulty observation -  'From the reverse side of the paper or card the process resembles blind embossing' - which with a thermographic image is never so - such a physical condition is only feasible with blind embossing [a difficult procedure with three colors and one of them gold bronze, plus the registering indentation] or alternatively, a real die stamped print job.

To have given the impression [pun is a bonus] that the whole job was Virko, let alone steel plate, was an omission of detail on my part - I knew what I meant but failed to pass the message nicely. [from an earlier post - not currently available JZ]

I have tried to get some information on the variety of printing processes handled, or bought in through the trade by Liverpool Printing and Stationery Co. without much success as yet - they may well be out of business - and there does not appear to be any available literature on the firm, its services or its equipment. [At the time -  found out more later but of no relevance to the matter in discussion]

Now to the 'Rosemead Menu'.

This was an honest reproduction to be used in conjunction with a dinner to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the disaster and as part of the publicity for this occasion - it did not conform to any of the regular White Star sizes and included the 'Beer' eye raiser - quote -   'Printed at the bottom of the "Rosemead menu" is this wording followed by a thin black line and the bank information : Iced draught Munich Lager Beer 3d. & 6d. a Tankard. Courtesy of the FIRST CITY BANK 123 South Lake Ave., Pasadena and Valley at Rosemead Blvd., Rosemead, Calif.'

The description of the job suggests a not so hot small offset job of inconsistent quality  -  some of the pieces sold as collectibles after this event had the Bank information trimmed off, which reduced the height by the amount of the trim,  the while some others left it on.

Perhaps Iced Larger beer was available on board the ship - this could be genuine - the price seems to be about right for a higher end market of the time.

Which leads me to a question or two about the menu on the back of the painting - was the piece a stock White Star size and did it have the beer ad, the line cutout and the bank ad.

The bank ad would be a dead givaway so it would probably have been removed leaving the cutout - also a giveaway because it is out of character with the rest of the setting except to draw the beer and bank lines together as a unit.

Golly,  that was an effort - and its only the tip of the iceberg - so to speak !!



So that was the relevant post - resurrected from a now undersized hard drive in a computer that is kept alive because it will work some of the older and still useful hardware that the u-beaut fast and smart boxes turn their noses up at.

Now, should anyone want a sample or two of an embossed image or a Virko-ed line or both to compare, you are welcome to contact me with a forwarding address and I'll mail them to you. 

A small embossed piece is before me now - it has a slight depression in the back where the die and the 'counter' or 'force' have together punched an  indentation into the card stock, a condition you NEVER get with Thermo which is generally accepted as a letterpress procedure, but the image may be applied equally as well by lithographic or mitographic means, and if you are going to get a dent in the stock it will be pushed out the back as a monument to a clumsy, inept, careless operator - I hesitate to call such a creature a printer.

The embossed image on the sample is the crest on a Mess Card for the now defunct Officer Cadet School at Portsea in Victoria Australia and is about all that is left of embossed samples from my father's burnt out print shop - The Waite and Seville Inverted Die Press that did the job is here in the 'Cave' but not as a running machine at the moment.

I would need to set a couple of lines for a Virko sample - no major task there  --  there are powders in stock and a couple of locally made Thermographic processing units by Sterling to cook 'em  --  one non-printer acquaintance persists in calling this particular piece of plant a 'mini-pizza oven' which is as good a description as any.

There is very little spoilage with thermographic processing, the folks who would manage to ruin any quantity of a run would need to be unwary and  unskilled - the inks are standard everyday variety, no special sticky goop, nor have I ever seen such stuff marketed - the powders are easily and cleanly applied and the excess flicked off manually, in small batches before the ink sets then passed through the oven -  such equipment is usually the choice of the small shop whose use of the process is spasmodic and most often limited to small runs - the larger operator with a volume of work that can justify the investment can buy plant which feeds straight from the printing machine delivery,  with automatic powder application, cyclone excess removal and a cooling and conditioning tunnel to replace the humidity in the stock.

Steel Dieplate embossed printing, on the other hand, leaves more room for error, especially when one is using a machine with an upright mounted die common to most machines built in Britain, Europe and the US before the introduction of the Waite Inverted Die Press -  which was probably in the early years of the 20th Century, ....  and feed the sheet upside down , and then have to get it out with a raised, sticky, wet inked base,  and then turn it over to lay it on a rack to dry - all without smudging it.

Thank you George for the interesting information on W. H. Fox-Talbot's  foray into photothermography - till now I had not been aware of it and it provides another interesting insight into the man and his work.

I  will make the observation though, that this and the later development and utilization for medical photography by 3M and the Eastman Organisation have to do with planographic, ie two-dimensional photographic images and not three-dimensional raised images which may be best described as resin-enhanced letterpress, lithographic or mitographic imagery  --  or to be less kind, 'The Poor Man's Embossing',  a term I like enought to repeat though I have great respect for the process and the fine results that are obtainable by means of it.

The incorrect assumption of Mr. Paul Louden-Brown, no doubt derived from inaccurate information accepted from a similarly un-informed authority who had obviously not been party to printing by both methods - or he/she would have had it right -  cannot be accepted as proof that themography in it's guise of resins applied over a printed image and raised by heat, existed in the 1870's.

I reckon that Swiss Andy will probably back me up on the physical appearance question - he is the only other forum member I know of so far who will admit to any die plate embossed printing experience, and the odds are that he has had a crack at Thermo/Virko too -  are there any other steel die-plate printers at large or have we become an endangered species?

I have not yet had time to spend on this particular line of research but I feel quite sure that there will be a US patent of around the turn the 19-20th Century belonging to one of the founders of Virkotype Corporation who, I will tip, had the process on their own for the run of time of the patent -  then after the patent expiry, others entered the expanding and lucrative field and Virko would have made agreements with some of these people such as Caslon in the UK for the European market - I am making an educated guess here and will be happy to be shown to be wrong.

Another use for thermography in the trade turned up in the mid to late 50's with the introduction of a letterpress makeready system for halftone blocks - it took the form of tympan underpacking built up from a pull of the block which was dusted with two different grades of thermo powder which when cooked gave a similar effect to that of a carefully crafted makeready of built up tissues.

It worked pretty well too - my introduction to it was at a Heidelberg Pressman's School for the 10 x 15 Platen, sponsored by the then Australian agents for Heidelberg, Seligson and Clare - the whole probably as a PR and sales showcase for this product [I think the manufacturer could have been FAG] which my firm subsequently bought so that I was able to become reasonably proficient over time in it's use, and also for a number of other expensive, desirable and slick gadgets which promised to make the life of the stonehand / pressman easier and add wealth to the coffers of the supplier.

A number of these schools were run and there are possibly some old printers still at large who will remember them as good meeting places for other printers / seekers of truth from all over the place who you would not have had the opportunity to talk to and argue with about different ideas and generally broaden the scope of your outlook -  A bit like Metaltype is today!

When the dust settled after the 2006 discussion there was an article on British and US diepresses which could probably still be found if anybody is interested and an amount of research was done on a proposed piece on Thermography which lost relevance and context after all the previous material was 'hacked' and gone -  perhaps it may be worth the labor of finishing this opus now - with a bit of luck it might even spark some useful dissent and worthy discussion.

As Mo would say "Cop that, young Harry"  [Ancient local radio joke]



Dave Hughes

As usual, superb stuff from Jeffo.

Anyone fancy setting up a short run of Titanic menu cards, with a quick hit on eBay, we could be relaxing in the Bahamas by Christmas!

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Arthur Johnson

At Gulgong Pioneers museum we have one of these old Virko machines, we hope to get it running soon. Our print display will soon be open to visitors again, we now have our C3 and C4 Intertypes working and also our Model 15 Linotype, hope to get our Model 48 and 78 working also, they both need electrical work. For now the Electron will be a static display. Ludlow is a goer and our Elrod just needs the water connected and we can then give it a go. Our presses, V50 Miehle, Heidelberg Platen, 5 hand fed platens, Albion and Wharfedale are all working. Arthur in Australia.

Dave Hughes

I have "revived" this topic (and separated it from a discussion on Thermographic printing) due to the heightened interest in the subject as we approach the centenary of the sinking of the great ship.
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Dave Hughes

The Wikipedia article does mention a print shop on board the ship:

QuoteThe rest represented a great variety of professions – bakers, chefs, butchers, fishmongers, dishwashers, stewards, gymnasium instructors, laundrymen, waiters, bed-makers, cleaners and even a printer,[90] who produced a daily newspaper for passengers called the Atlantic Daily Bulletin with the latest news received by the ship's wireless operators.[38][e]

I was unable to find an image of the Titanic newspaper (perhaps it is now rarer than the menu cards!) - but I did find this image of the Lusitania's newspaper.

This picture of the Titanic's sister ship, Olympic seems unremarkable until you notice the human figure and are able to scale the ship!

This illustration of the office of the Cunard Daily Bulletin seems a little clean and tidy for my liking!

As usual, click on any image to see a bigger version.

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This blog claims some information regarding the print shop on the Titanic. It includes the above photo of Ernest Corbin, the assistant printer.

George Finn (Mechanic)
Gold Coast

Dave Hughes

Thanks George.

Yes, a very informative blog.

Look's like a letterpress titanic printing book is in the pipeline.
It's been a busy few months researching the Titanic through books, films and online. I've recently got in contact with Mr. Timothy Trower, an avid Titanic buff and working letterpress historian. This has been a breakthrough as far as any narrative is concerned because Tim is hoping to publish an in depth review of the letterpress facilities on board the Titanic and has a lot of valuable information for me. The fact that my project will be printed letterpress and that the titanic had on board letterpress machinery shouldn't be overlooked. I will use this as my starting point when trying to create a narrative for the book. To sum up briefly what Tim has provided me with to date...

"Almost certainly the press(es) used were platen presses (or clamshell-style presses); these are commonly called a Gordon platen press and the type used on the Titanic was probably the English-manufactured Arab press or the USA-manufactured Chandler & Price press. Generally speaking, what was printed on board were the daily menus, invitations to private parties, and such oddball items as labels for crates of roosters that were being transported (none of the chickens survived the sinking), a press of a large size would not have been needed."

"Due to the look and feel of the menus that I've examined, I am confident that two presses were employed given changes in impression, transfer of ink, etc. between the examples I've looked at."

"That I am aware of, there are no photographs of the printing offices on board any of the Olympic-class liners."

"The Titanic did not have a daily newspaper.  At this moment, I can say with certain authority that even the Olympic did not have a newspaper until up into the summer of 1912."
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I've gotta chime in ever so quickly. 

And apologize for not giving more details on the following statement:  There was no printed newspaper on the Titanic.  This did not become a feature of White Star Atlantic liners until the summer of 1912, well after the Titanic had hit the bottom of the sea.  I am in the midst of intensive research into this subject, and hope to have an article ready for print in two or three years.  You'll just have to trust me on this one.

Second, the earlier assumption that Paul Louden-Brown was incorrect regarding thermography is spot on.  I have a number of printed pieces as used on board the Titanic, and they are properly engraved.  Not even a question.  I can only assume that Paul, a non-printer, went to a few job shops and asked questions of those seemingly knowledgeable.  I wasn't one of them, and so, he made a critical error of assumption.

That's life!

Dave Hughes

Hi Timothy, and thanks for the additional information.

Good luck with the article, I am sure there are Metal Type regulars who would be keen to have a read when it comes out.
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Dave Hughes

A huge "visitor attraction" (hate that phrase) has opened in Belfast, with all sorts of artifacts, etc. on display to the public.

Their website: features a "vintage looking" ticket.

Click to Enlarge

The long all-cap lines seem to spoil it for me. I would guess they are trying to mimic the original menus, which had much shorter lines.
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The last time I raised the subject of the printing of the Titanic's menu, Jeffo set me straight in no uncertian terms. I don't feel so bad now as this copy of the menu, authenticate on Antiques Roadshow,

was also given a roasting on

Hi All,
The "authentic" menu seen on the Antiques Roadshow was the one that later sold in the USA for the sum of $77,000.00 USD. It was indeed bogus and totally fake. I had to shake my head in wonder when I saw it appear on the Roadshow. The "expert" doing the appraising went on a great length about how he was a Titanic researcher for many years and also a member of THS and because of this he knew what he was looking at and had the skill to authenticate the menu. That man should be ashamed of himself! So what if someone is a member of any Titanic society? That in NO WAY qualifies them to authenticate ANYTHING. This guy should be fired as a Roadshow appraiser. Because of his "skill" with Titanic collectables, some poor soul later spent a ton of money for a worthless piece of garbage. Some folks just don't know about what they are buying I guess. Just so none here run into a bargain Titanic menu and are taken in, here are some little tips about the originals which do not appear on any of the current or past reproductions out there (yet thank gosh): Original Titanic 1st class menus are 6 1/4 inches high by 4 1/4 wide. The relpicas are much larger in size. Original Titanic 1st class menus have rounded corners. The replicas do not. Original Titanic 1st class menus have gilded edges. The replicas do not. On original Titanic 1st class menus, the WSL flag logo as well as the OSNC logo are embossed. That is, they were pressed into the stock of the menu from the rear, producing a raised relief image in the front, or face, of the menu. If you run your finger over either the flag or the OSNC logo, you will feel they are raised. On the repros the flag and OSNC logo are simply printed and are not embossed or raised. Original Titanic 1st class menus were printed on a light "off white" or cream/buff white colour card stock. The replicas are printed on a lighter heavy paper ,(light card stock), and the colour of the stock is slightly more yellowish in colour, unlike the originals. Hopefully this information may help some future unsuspecting buyer from shelling out some serious big bucks on the next "find of the century". Best regards, Steve Santini

George Finn (Mechanic)
Gold Coast

Dave Hughes

It looks like they have "gone overboard" with the ageing of the menu, to disguise the fact it is not real.
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One note about the Rosemead menu.  They were used not only for that special occasion, but the extras were sent out as an enclosure with the journal of the Titanic Enthusiasts of America (TEA), later the Titanic Historical Society (THS).  (As one survivor pointed out, "How can you be enthusiastic about a disaster?)  Now, we are probably only talking about one hundred or so at this point in the 1960s, but still, the Rosemead menu has a tendency to show up once in a while.

Steve Santini (quoted above), although not a printer, has amassed a great deal of wisdom relating to Titanic items, and he and I frequently talk about such.  Honestly, I am probably learning more from him than he from me, but his field of collectibles is much wider than mine.  But his assessment of the Antique Roadshow goofball is spot on, as is his point about THS members not being automatic experts.  Those of us with expertise in a particular subject frequently and constantly talk one to another, trading information and learning from each other.  But no one of us is an expert on the entire ship and all that this encompasses.

The first thing that I look for is whether or not a raised image is truly engraved, and the second thing I look for is the imprint of type into paper.  Funny how many items can be proven a fake based on just one of those two points.  There are actually several other things that I look for when it comes to paper items, but you will understand that this being a public forum, I do not want to teach forgers how to better fool Steve and myself.  (Indeed, we have a closed forum group that does nothing but explore Titanic fraud.)

If anyone reading these words has a Titanic paper-related question, please feel free to contact me at (just remove the NOSPAM before sending the email) and I or one of my compatriots will be glad to take a look see.

Given my background in printing (started at age 13 in 1976) and the Titanic (started at age 13 in 1976) I'd love to talk further about this subject as time allows.

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