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"TITANIC OR OLYMPIC?"

Article by Bill Judnick & Devon M. Scott
Copyright 1999-2012, All Rights Reserved

After the tragic sinking of the White Star Line Titanic, many postcards were issued with images purporting to be the Titanic. Typically these souvenir postcards recounted some history of the ill-fated ship. An example is this postcard, issued and used about one month after the sinking in 1912:

Another example, from 1917:

wpe1.jpg (19043 bytes)

While most collectors realize that such post-sinking cards are nowhere near as valuable as the pre-sinking ones--which get into the hundreds and even thousands of dollars--there is another evaluation factor which is not as well known. Often postcards purporting to be the Titanic actually depict her sister ship the Olympic. The White Star Line itself is known to have used Olympic images in its pre-sinking Titanic advertising; there just were not many Titanic images available--although some surfaced in the late 1930's. Further muddying these waters was a film reel with such a misidentification--it purported to show the Titanic leaving New York harbor! Probably 90% or more of pictures claiming to be Titanic--especially in advertising and souvenir items in the years following her loss--are actually of the Olympic.

So, among Titanic postcards, an important evaluation factor is whether or not it is really the Titanic or the Olympic that is pictured. While both types are important collectibles, a post-sinking-but-real-Titanic will sell in the $50 to $100 range, while a post-sinking-but-actual Olympic will sell in the $30 to $50 range.

The purpose of this article is to enable collectors to distinguish readily among Titanic postcards. This information is not often shared by some Titanic enthusiasts, because they hope to find an occasional fabulous bargain among the pre-sinking postcards. Once you have mastered the knack of telling them apart, you can revisit the two cards above and decide for yourself--which is which?

Here is the key. The Olympic was in service for some time before Titanic was completed; it was learned that first-class passengers on the promenade would sometimes get wet from the spray caused by the bow. Therefore, the forward, First Class section of the Promenade deck of the Titanic was enclosed, but for the Olympic it was not enclosed. This row of windows (highlighted yellow in the attached picture of Titanic at Southampton) is the easiest way to quickly discern the ships.

Image9_small.jpg (16798 bytes)

Of course there is an exception to every rule. During the construction of the Titanic, there was a time when it was not outfitted with the windows above. For rare footage of just such a time, see "Encyclopedia Titanica". And, if you have a postcard showing a real Titanic construction scene, be assured its value is in four figures.

Now, to practice your Titanic detection skills, you might also enjoy the scan below of a postcard dated 1929 that is used on the cover of the Titanic: Music as Heard on the Fateful Voyage (by "The White Star Orchestra" - Rhino Records). You may have encountered the real McCoy of this card at some time. The artist obviously used a photo of the Olympic to create their work, but painted the name Titanic on the prow (not readily visible in the scan... sorry). Note the windows are clearly absent, indicating this is not Titanic, despite the name!

Image10Titanic_small.jpg (50341 bytes)

OK! With that practice, you are on your own!


The co-author Devon M. Scott is a Titanic enthusiast and collector of Titanic memorabilia, information and data. He is primarily interested in the history and symbolism surrounding this ship and is in the final stages of writing a fictional book based on the Titanic legacy.

For information about Bill Judnick, please click.


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