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image of Lusitania's propellers

Lusitania's propellers

A hundred years ago (and it is now more than 100 years since Lusitania sailed the Atlantic) itinerant and local photographers made money by taking photographs and then selling them to buyers who were captivated by the image.

Normally those images are pictures of local football teams, local sporting events, disasters, social events, local places of interest such as schools, churches, post offices, main streets (I'll bet that you would love to have a pound for every High Street postcard ever sold!), as well as soldiers, fetes, and other major events that a buyer - in the age long before digital cameras - might want to have as a souvenir of the occasion.

As an entrepreneurial photographer, you wanted images with a broad market - you made money with each image sold. So was there a broad market for an image of Lusitania's propellers? Probably for images of the storied liner herself, but can you imagine a person thinking to themselves that they wanted an image of Lusitania's propellers in their postcard album?

Clearly she was in dry dock or the propellers would not have been visible. A small boat or other item that is at the front of the image is labelled 'Cunard' so there was an evident Cunard presence. This would not have been a pre-launch, or the artifact would have been labelled as for the shipyard and not for the shipping line.

I can find no record of Lusitania having been in a collision and having had to undergo repairs. So this must have been a time when she was in dry dock for routine cleaning and inspection. Full credit to the ambitious photographer for gaining access to the dry dock and clambering close to the hull to get this photo. There must have been a significant degree of hazard involved. But why take that risk?

Q Who would have been interested in purchasing this Lusitania photo, even in that postcard-mad era of over 100 years ago? It is not postally used, so it went into someone's shipping collection as an unusual item.

Surprising that it didn't get binned at some time in the past century, and I would be astounded if there's any other copy of this photo 'out there'. Let me know if you have one. Ephemera is such fun!

John G. Sayers (jasayers[at]saybuck.com)

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Ephemera - minor transient documents of every day life