During the 1800s, steamships were primarily used to transport cargo overseas. The early twentieth century, however, brought a major shift in the life of the commercial steamer, from cargo to passengers, and by 1920, the Golden Age of the Ocean Liner was well under way.

During the early twentieth century, steamship companies competed to provide abundant and comfortable passenger space and the most luxurious amenities available during transatlantic crossings. This demand led to larger vessels, and, by the 1930s, ocean liners reached the pinnacle of luxury, size, and safety at sea. Giant liners cut through the waters of the North Atlantic, bringing immigrants to the United States and carrying wealthy passengers between New York and Europe.


The classic ocean liner embodied a world of travel more leisurely than anything known today, more subtle, quieter, more selective—ocean travel as it could and ultimately would be experienced on one of the famous liners of the 1930s. The great Cunarders, R.M.S. Queen Elizabeth and the R.M.S. Queen Mary, and the French line’s fabled S.S. Normandie were among the greatest passenger ships of the 1930s. Only the Queen Mary still exists, anchored permanently in Long Beach, California, where she operates as a hotel and conference center. The others, and many more, exist today only in photographs or in high-end restaurants that salvaged a portion of a great ship’s interiors. Collectibles are continually traded, but have become increasingly rare.


Art Deco was the predominant style of interior design on board the two Cunard Queens, but no interior spaces could surpass those found aboard the Normandie. Her first-class dining salon was a breathtaking 305 feet long, 46 feet wide, and 25 feet high, and could seat 750 people at one time. Twelve illuminated Lalique pillars and 38 matching wall panels earned Normandie the name “ship of light.” Some of her other highlights were the children’s dining room covered with murals painted by Jean de Brunoff, the creator of Babar the Elephant, and the first-class smoking room, which boasted a breathtaking glass mural by Jean Dupas, “The History of Navigation,” which is on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.


Our personal love of ocean liner history eventually led to our own treasured transatlantic experiences aboard the Queen Mary 2—the successor to the original Queen Mary. Launched in 2003, the QM2 is unique by today’s standards in that she was designed and built to be a true ocean liner.


Constructed in France by Chantiers de l’Atlantique in 2003, Queen Mary 2 was the longest passenger ship ever built, and with her gross tonnage of 148,528 also the largest. QM2 required 40% more steel than a cruise ship to meet the demands of an ocean liner making routine transatlantic crossings.


Continuing the tradition of the great Cunard Queens, QM2 cuts through the North Atlantic with supreme strength and speed. Instead of the diesel-electric configuration found on many ships, Queen Mary 2 uses integrated electric propulsion to achieve her top speed.

Queen Mary 2 ’​s facilities include fifteen restaurants and bars, five swimming pools, a casino, a ballroom, a theatre, and the first planetarium at sea. There are also kennels and a nursery on board. Her interior design echoes the details found in the great ships of the past, merging Art Deco with contemporary design. The spirit of the QM2 captures the essence and elan of the original liners, giving travelers the opportunity to embark on a legendary transatlantic crossing once again.


Several of Yearbook’s fine vintage and antique collectibles come directly from these and other historic ocean liners. Our discovery of a silver ice bucket from the S.S. Normandie, originally offered as a first-class souvenir, became a collector’s piece as soon as Yearbook offered it for sale. A French globe from the 1940s, showing transatlantic routes, was also taken home by a passionate cartophile. An ever-changing selection of service ware from ocean liners of the early twentieth century continues to ebb and flow through the store as they once did through the exquisite dining rooms of these famous liners. A first-class deck chair from the Queen Elizabeth is currently on display at Yearbook, and a collection of classic 1930s Champagne coupes, which recall sparkling French wine in a first-class lounge or dining salon, is always in stock. And the design of our original Transatlantic Cabin Service plates, inspired by the prow of the Normandie, has been produced exclusively for Yearbook by Homer Laughlin.


The classic age of ocean liners has also contributed to Yearbook events and store promotions. In 2013, Yearbook hosted a Study Hall Event inspired by the Golden Age of the great liners. The event featured a sun deck party outside the design studio with a menu of hors d’oeuvres of the period. Flower arrangements, decorations and live music were all in sync with the theme. With a facsimile bulkhead and searing red funnel based on the original funnel designs from the Queen Elizabeth, the front store window promoted the summer event as well.




Although souvenirs and memorabilia from the great ocean liners can be scarce, you will always find something peppered in at Yearbook. Perhaps these and other souvenirs of the great age of ocean travel may encourage you to set off for parts unknown, chart your own transatlantic crossing aboard the QM2, or inspire you to plan a first-class dinner in your own dining salon. Stop by Yearbook soon to launch your list of ideas and set sail on a classic travel adventure.