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Glasgow Museums’ collection  of Anchor Line posters
History Scotland

Glasgow Museums’ collection of Anchor Line posters

Posted 02 October 2017   |   1345 views   |   General Interest   |   Comments (0) Emily Malcolm, Curator of Transport & Technology, explores a colourful collection of historic travel posters, which convey the excitement of world travel in years gone by

Te Anchor Line was one of the Glasgow’s longest-lived shipping companies. The founders began chartering cargo ships to the Baltic in the 1830s and grew from strength to strength in the later part of the 19th century. By 1900 they had 27 ships supplying passenger and cargo services to America, Canada, the Mediterranean and through the Suez Canal to India.

In 1982, Glasgow Museums was gifted a collection of posters produced by the Anchor Line between 1914 and 1939. A new story display featuring twelve of the finest images and digital access to the entire collection opened at Riverside Museum in April 2017.

The evocative advertising images show everything from ships to elephants and from the Rock of Gibraltar to the skyline of New York. Most of the artwork is anonymous but there are designs by several prominent graphic artists of the 1920s and 1930s – Kenneth Shoesmith and Odin Rosenvinge among them.

The posters are in near perfect condition – their jewel-bright colours have been preserved because they were added to the design archive of the company and never actually used. A fascinating aspect of this is that each poster has a label attached detailing the printer and the quantities and dates of each print run.

Most of the posters had print runs of around 2,000, but 15,000 copies of a dramatic highland scene were ordered for distribution to Anchor Line agents in the USA and Canada in 1922. It probably played a part in creating the impression of Scotland many North American tourists still cherish today!

Other posters reflect the great social changes that were taking place in the early years of the 20th century. There are examples offering cheap assisted passage fares to Canada – as low as £2 per person in 1927, but also posters encouraging emigrants to pay visits to their homelands – showing emigration was no longer the one-way ticket it had been in earlier decades.

The posters also reveal the power of advertising – it is intriguing that a particularly jolly set of designs promoting cruises in the 1930s actually disguise the fact that the Anchor Line was struggling financially. The Great Depression saw a disastrous drop in the transatlantic passenger and cargo trade and cruising was an attempt to keep surplus vessels active while sailing on shorter trips to Gibraltar, Morocco and the ‘Cornish Riviera’.

It is also rather poignant that the final poster in the set, featuring a beautiful image of a girl in traditional North African dress (second from left above), advertises a cruise that never took place. Anchor Line offered two cruises to Portugal, Spain, Algeria and Morocco in July and August 1939. The second of these voyages was cancelled at the last minute as war loomed.

You can see more images and buy copies at Glasgow Museums’ online Photolibrary:

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History Scotland is Scotland's premier history magazine, providing fascinating features on topics from all branches and periods of Scottish history and archaeology, written by leading historians, archaeologists and museum curators. The magazine is

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