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villa66

Coins and Imperator/Berengaria: 1910-1946.

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villa66

I’m posting this in the English-only section for the sake of simplicity, but I note this is a subject that began with posts in both the Kingdom and Republic sections (on the fast ocean liner Rex and its relation to the “Blue Riband” (“Nastro Azzurro”), the international prize for trans-Atlantic speed, but also—and this really floored me when I learned about it—the beer). So…

 

Second of the final three ocean liner sketches is Berengaria, built by the Germans as Imperator and new in service in 1913, 919 feet long and rated at 23 knots.

 

Imperator/Berengaria had a varied career during her quarter-century of work, and it got me to thinking about the succession of coins that might have been visitors in and around her at various times over the years.

 

If anyone knows of any particular coin associated with her (perhaps under her mast), I sure would like to know. Anyway, with apologies for the extreme length of this thing, and more or less at random, some guesswork….

 

And please, as always, doubts, questions and corrections are most welcome.

 

 

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Germany’s huge new ocean liner Imperator was laid down in Hamburg in 1910 and launched into the Elbe in May, 1912. She was the world’s largest, courtesy of the out-size eagle belatedly added to her bow to make her longer than the British Aquitania.

 

Imperator continued fitting out well into the next year, with another change being made to her finished form courtesy of a British liner. This time it was Titanic, which had gone down only the month before Imperator’s launch, and this time the belated addition to the new German ship was potentially life-or-death: more lifeboats.

 

Company officials and engineers, artists, decorators, furniture movers and ship-workers of every sort would swarm over the new ship, and then finally her first captain and crew would come aboard. That’s a lot of coin-purses and pockets, and I’ll bet not a few of them held 1-mark pieces like this Berlin-mint example from 1912. It was a common coin, of real value to regular folks, yet also still useful for the well-to-do.

 

And 1912a too—a souvenir-worthy date and mint (although a local Hamburg-mint coin might have been better)—of precious metal, significant enough to remember a famous ship sliding into the water, or a glimpse of the Kaiser that day, but not big enough that setting it aside would ruin a working-man’s budget.

 

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Imperator was completed in June 1913 and departed for New York on her maiden voyage later that month. After a quick turnaround, she headed for home. Imperator was a preferred ship for Americans visiting Europe that summer. She was the newest, the biggest, and she was German. (It’s easy to forget, sometimes, the considerable foothold Germany had in pre-1914 America.)

 

A store of small gifts is a good thing to have while visiting foreign countries, and coins are especially useful as giveaways. So what coins would Americans boarding Imperator have had in their pockets and tucked away in their luggage that fine summer of 1913?

 

The new 1913 nickels, of course! Indian Heads. Buffaloes (well, bison). Because any seasoned traveler would know that the European crush on (a heavily romanticized) American West would make the new 5-cent pieces irresistible.

 

Besides, Americans too liked their ground-breaking new nickel, and would have been proud to put it on foreign display. That, and the nickel was a wonderfully useful coin, all the way to Imperator’s gangplank.

 

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It turns out that one of Imperator’s earliest American passengers that summer of 1913 was James W. Gerard. Here are the opening lines of his book, My Four Years in Germany: “The second day out on the Imperator, headed for a summer’s vacation, a loud knocking woke me at seven A. M. The radio [sic], handed in from a friend in New York, told me of my appointment as Ambassador to Germany.”

 

Gerard is clearly taken with the luxury liner: “The Imperator is a marvellous [sic] ship of fifty-four thousand tons or more, and at times it is hard to believe that one is on the sea. In addition to the regular dining saloon, there is a grill room and Ritz restaurant with its palm garden, and, of course, an [sic] Hungarian Band. There are also a gymnasium and swimming pool, and, nightly, in the enormous ballroom dances are given, the women dressing in their best just as they do on shore.”

 

New Ambassador Gerard was given “a dinner of twenty-four covers, something of a record at sea.” I wonder if during his time aboard—perhaps even at this congratulatory dinner—anyone showed him a portrait of the Kaiser (with whom he would soon be dealing) on a coin like this impressively large 1913a Prussian 5-mark?

 

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Or maybe there was a 1901a Prussian 2-mark commemorative like this one aboard Imperator, and maybe it found its way to the attention of the new Ambassador.

 

It was, after all, of the new century; it was a good size to carry around, there was the Kaiser and the Kaiserin sporting their ceremonial best, and if their jugate image today seems somewhat extravagant, well, another good reason a coin like this might have been aboard Imperator in 1913 was the eagle atop the Kaiser’s helmet—in shape and attitude it was very like the enormous crowned eagle at Imperator’s bow.

 

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The link between the American 5-cent piece of 1913 and Germany’s Imperator has an ironic twist: both had teething troubles. Imperator had stability problems and very quickly earned the nickname “Limperator.” Fixing her “limp” required a return trip to the shipyard where her three funnels were shortened by about ten feet (3m) each, some marble and heavy furniture was removed from her upper reaches, and 2,000 tons of cement ballast was added to her bottom.

 

Many coin collectors, of course, know about the “Buffalo” nickel’s problems. Production of the new coins had begun in mid-February, 1913, and by April the authorities were already concerned that “FIVE CENTS” was too exposed to circulation wear, and would quickly disappear. To cure that defect, and to also address stacking and possible vending machine difficulties, “FIVE CENTS” was protected from wear by recessing the exergue.

 

So why in the world wasn’t the problem with the date fixed as well? It too was overexposed to circulation wear. And wear it did, disappearing from these coins by the hundreds of thousands, as if they too were just so many vanishing bison on the prairies of America’s Old West.

 

Below is a reworked (type two) Indian Head 5-cent piece of the kind introduced later in 1913. This piece, however, is dated 1917. Within a few years, these coins too would be boarding Imperator in some numbers….

 

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In the meantime, however, Imperator remained safe from the perils of the North Atlantic, laid-up as she was in Hamburg from 1914 through 1918. Suddenly she was quiet, and I expect she became quieter still as the years—and the rust—began to accumulate.

 

I guess it’s safe to say that in those years the coinage aboard her became very sparse indeed, and exclusively German.

 

A miscellaneous company official, perhaps, would visit her some days. And there would likely have been a series of watchmen making their solitary rounds. (I expect they would have been older or disabled men, since younger or fitter specimens would have been needed elsewhere.) Nights especially must have been lonely for the watchmen, with a slumbering Imperator moving quietly beneath them as they waited for the morning shift change.

 

And the coins in their pockets? I’ll bet plenty of them were 10-pfennig pieces like these—peacetime copper-nickel early in the war, then steel, and zinc later on.

 

It’s easy to imagine Imperator’s night watchman checking his pockets very early in the morning, making sure he had the right coins for a morning newspaper, and maybe—if he wasn’t living aboard—the streetcar ride home. Bed….

 

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But back again to 1917 Buffalo nickels….

 

The United States joined the war as an active belligerent early in 1917, and the population of nickels like these ticked up in and around the great AEF (American Expeditionary Forces) embarkation point of Hoboken, New Jersey. Soldiers brought the new 5-cent pieces in from all over the country, and left many of them in the businesses and public conveyances downtown.

 

“Hobo nickels”—some of them famously carved using Indian Head nickels by “hobos” during the Depression of the 1930s—are well-known in the American coin hobby. But…

 

There’s some (convincing) revisionist thinking going on that suggests the “hobo” nickname owes something to the “Hoboken nickels” carved by WWI soldiers awaiting transit to the war-zone….

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America was new to the war, and far, far too optimistic. General John J. “Blackjack” Pershing—commander of the AEF—promised his troops that by Christmas 1917 it would be “Heaven, Hell or Hoboken.”

 

The new year turned without Peace having come, of course, and whatever else anything may have been, it wasn’t Hoboken. So, Christmas, 1917, and another coin that would soon be going aboard Imperator, although again, not quite yet….

 

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Standing Liberty quarters had been introduced in 1916, but these coins too had problems. Like the Indian Head nickels of 1913-38, the Standing Liberty quarters of 1916-24 had dates that were mostly unprotected, that disappeared during their circulating careers. (The date-problem was fixed in 1925.)

 

But in 1917 the trouble with these coins was more immediate. The design was too soft—not at all tough enough for the change in early 1917 from peace to war.

 

For some decades, orthodoxy within the American numismatic community had the obverse design change of 1917 having been the result of public prudery. (Chain-mail armor was added to cover Liberty’s bare breast.) But it has become less and less heretical over the years to credit the World War for Liberty’s additional clothing.

 

It’s oddly fitting here—talking of both ocean liners and of the weak messaging of early Standing Liberty quarters—to recall something I read in an old British coin catalog from the 1920s, which listed them as Liberty Disembarking quarters.

 

But onto 1918 and Eleven-Eleven-Eleven….

 

 I expect many of these 1918 quarters had gone to Europe in the pockets and personal effects of American soldiers and sailors. Some of these coins, I expect, would soon be boarding Imperator either overseas, or back at home, in Hoboken…

 

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The Americans who got to France in 1917 were proud to say “Lafayette, we are here.”

 

By 1919, it was an ironic “Lafayette, we are still here.”

 

Getting the boys (and some girls) back home as quickly as possible became a priority, and the passenger-ships that had survived the war were in high demand. Imperator—again, laid-up in Hamburg from 1914-18—was requisitioned for the U.S. Navy in 1919 and became the U.S.S. Imperator.

 

Buffalo nickels, Standing Liberty quarters, and Lincoln cents like the one below doubtless came aboard U.S.S. Imperator that summer of 1919, carried in the pockets of the soldiers going home, and the sailors going back and forth, ferrying the doughboys to Hoboken and parts west.

 

The Lincoln cents they carried were only a decade old at the time, and the once-controversial initials (VDB) of its Lithuanian-born designer, Victor David Brenner, had been restored—albeit nearly invisibly—to the coin in 1918.

 

(Just before America’s entrance into the war, the coin’s master hub was redone, and it is sometimes said that the Lincoln cents of 1916 are the best-realized of the design’s long run.)

 

Abraham Lincoln and the American Civil War of 1861-65. I’ll bet—in 1919—that pennies like this one occasionally got looked at by returning soldiers and sailors who were thinking about Mr. Lincoln’s war, and about their fathers, their grandfathers, and their great-grandfathers. By 1919 it had been more than a half-century of stories of the Blue and the Gray, of reunions and parades, of shrinking old uniforms brought out to wear maybe once or twice a year, and the polishing of old swords and medals.

 

But there had been a lot more to the Civil War and its aftermath—things that could neither be talked about, nor forgotten—and the soldiers and the sailors returning from the battlefields of the World War now knew it too.

 

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U.S.S. Imperator brought some 25,000 Americans back home from Europe in 1919, most of them soldiers, and I’m sure coins like these French minors from the late-teens came back with them by the bucketful.

 

Those long-ago doughboys are departed from us now. But look around at most any American coin show; the coins they brought home from WWI are still with us….

 

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Not only French coins landed in Hoboken from the U.S.S. Imperator that summer of 1919. German coins arrived too, and the big silver coins from the individual German states and cities were special prizes.

 

I’ve wondered about this one for some years now.

 

Its smooth-worn surfaces make this 1912a Prussian 3-mark especially interesting. Its brief circulating career likely ended about 1917—and certainly it had been demonetized by April, 1920—which suggests to me that it did duty as a pocket-piece. For some unreconstructed partisan of the departed Kaiser, perhaps?

 

(What a contrast that would’ve made with the 3-mark piece of this type that I saw with the satirical “folk art” treatment of its distant cousins, the French coppers of the pickelhaubed Napoleon III. A top-hatted Wilhelm II? I’m not quite sure why it was done, but I’m pretty sure the civilian headgear wasn’t meant as a compliment.)

 

On reflection, though, I wonder if this wasn’t the pocket-piece of some American, a reminder of time spent overseas putting the Kaiser out of business. “How Ya Gonna Keep’em Down on the Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree)?” Indeed. For many of the older men I’ve known, their wartime experience was the great adventure of their lives. So given where and when I found this coin, I think maybe there’s a chance this was the long-time pocket-piece of a returned WWI doughboy….

 

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Late in 1919 Imperator left U.S. employ and was turned over to the British, then to Cunard as recompense for their lost Lusitania. By 1922 she had been modernized—having exchanged coal for fuel oil—and she had been renamed Berengaria, after Richard the Lionheart’s queen.

 

By 1922, then, many of the coins in the pockets of Berengaria’s passengers and crew would have been British, like the florin below.

 

It’s sort of a random choice, I guess, but the florin—decimal precursor that it was—definitely saw considerable use at the time. And this one isn’t a prewar coin, of sterling silver. In that, and in more ways, this 1922 florin is a useful metaphor for the Britain of its time: injured, somewhat confused—certainly diminished—but still not shorn of the adjective “Great.”

 

The financial strains of the late war, coupled with the postwar spike in silver prices, forced the UK to debase its silver coinage beginning in 1920. The move wasn’t popular. The Daily Express, in 1921: “Nobody likes or wants the new silver coinage. It is too various in its complexions, too unpleasant to the touch, to find a single friend. The money has had a public life of ten days only, and already the coins have lost their minted whiteness. They are disreputable in appearance and chameleon‑like in habits. At the end of a week they change to a nasty sickly yellow tint, and then become a greasy, unhealthy black. They are dirtier to the hands than copper...the silver has that peculiar ‘soapy’ feel previously associated with counterfeits.”

 

And so the Royal Mint struggled for some years, experimenting with its new silver alloy. From what I’ve read, the 10% nickel component was removed for a time and a simple 50% silver/50% copper mix was used in at least some of the 1922 coins—this one, perhaps—but I can’t say for sure.

 

I’ve also read that the Royal Mint bought no new silver in 1921-22, so this florin may have been struck using metal recovered from the old sterling coinage (or perhaps even silver Britain had gotten from its share of the 270 million American silver dollars melted by the U.S. pursuant to the Pittman Act of 1918).

 

At any rate, it’s a good bet that when they were young, 1922 florins like this one sailed the North Atlantic—sometimes aboard Cunard’s new flagship, R.M.S. Berengaria…..

 

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By 1926 the trans-Atlantic run had recovered much of its prewar bounce, and Cunard and Berengaria were hitting their stride. So too was British silver coinage, which was settling in to its “quaternary” alloy of 50% silver, 40% copper, 5% nickel and 5% zinc.

 

The underlying coinage aboard Berengaria in those days was British, of course, with a steady influx of American and French coins that reflected her usual route. An uptick in American—and Canadian—coins aboard would head east from New York to Southampton, and Cherbourg, with a spike in French—and other European coinage—periodically heading westward from Cherbourg and Southampton back to New York.

 

The British coins on board? The sixpence has long had a reputation as a lucky piece. So I wonder if one like the 1926-dated example below found its way to Miss Gertrude Ederle after she sailed from New York aboard Berengaria in June, 1926?

 

Maybe after it became known why Miss Ederle was headed for Europe, someone—a dinner companion, maybe, or maybe someone walking with her on deck or standing with her at the rail—someone, maybe, slipped her a lucky sixpence like this one. Because anyone planning to swim the English Channel could use a whole roll of lucky coins.

 

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Well, if it stayed on shore wrapped up in her towel, or tucked into her shoes….

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Gertie Ederle (she was “Gertie” within the family but the papers liked to call her “Trudy”) was a young American woman, though, so if she or anyone in her entourage felt the need for a lucky coin, the obvious choice would have been a homegrown talisman—America’s “lucky penny.”

 

A 1926d Lincoln like this one, maybe? Miss Ederle didn’t depart from New York until June, so there was probably time for a penny like this one to have worked its way from Denver out to the coast. (In those days, pennies travelled further, both geographically and in terms of buying power.)

 

The most numerous Denver-mint cent since 1920, before the collapse of the postwar boom, this 1926d cent was coined into America’s “Roaring Twenties.” Skirts were short, 50 million people listened to the radio, and a penny like this one would buy a Marlboro cigarette....

 

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But of course there were no cigarettes for Gertrude Ederle, who was in training. And it paid off.

 

Maybe a lucky sixpence or a lucky penny was involved, or maybe not, but on August 6, 1926, Trudy Ederle walked ashore after a successful cross-Channel swim (the first by a woman) and was met by a British official who asked for her passport.

 

After her triumph—she had swum the English Channel faster than anyone before her—Trudy went to Germany to visit the branch of the Ederle family who lived in the vicinity of Stuttgart. They would have had plenty to talk about. Trudy’s swim, of course. But maybe too the terrible inflation of just a few years before would have been mentioned, as well as the fact that Germany and her mark were definitely making a comeback.

 

And probably the family hospitality would have been so complete that there was no chance to spend money and get coins in change for a day or so, but surely on the way there or on the way back, Trudy or a travelling companion would have come across a coin denominated in Rentenpfennig.

 

Maybe the odd denomination rang a bell—“so this was what they were talking about”—or maybe not, but I’d expect that a coin similar to this Stuttgart-mint 50-rentenpfennig found its way into a purse or a pocket for the ocean trip home….

 

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Paris too was a destination for Trudy after her famous cross-Channel swim, and how could it not be?

 

But she had also been to Paris before her swim, and surely—despite the near-universal need to leave all one’s money in that irresistible city—well, maybe a “Chamber of Commerce” 2-franc piece like this one dated 1925 was insignificant enough to escape to Cherbourg, and the sea….

 

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The 1925 2-franc. France was in its last full year as a member of its own 19th century creation, the Latin Monetary Union. And these stately brass-colored tokens, these "Bon Pour” placeholders, had been adopted as an expedient until the return of a good franc like in the days before the war.

 

But it was 1926 when Trudy Ederle passed through town, and time had run out on the LMU. In two short years, of course, time would also run out on the old franc itself (after a fashion, anyway, as the franc Germinal gave way to the franc Poincaré).

 

But I’m sure these things didn’t much concern Miss Ederle or her handlers—there was too much to do.

 

Miss Ederle departed Cherbourg—again aboard Berengaria—and sailed for home, arriving in New York on 27 August 1926. It was a Friday. Mayor Jimmy Walker was there to greet her and there was a tremendous parade, a real hero’s welcome.

 

Gertrude Ederle lived a long time. (Until 2003, as a matter of fact.) And while I certainly don’t know what numismatic souvenirs she may or may not actually have gathered and taken back with her aboard Berengaria that late summer of 1926, the idea that they might have included a lucky sixpence makes me a little sad.

 

Marital good luck is said to be the sixpence’s specialty—by Americans too—and Miss Gertrude Ederle, who lived 98 years and was just 20 when she swam the English Channel, never did marry….

 

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In 1929 Berengaria was still one of the stars of the North Atlantic run. (Although a fading star, what with the launch of the Ǐle de France and Germany’s fast, new and big Bremen and Europa.)

 

In late September ’29, Berengaria embarked Ramsay MacDonald—the first British Prime Minister to visit the United States—for his voyage to New York (on his way to Washington DC).

 

Many of the Prime Minister’s shipmates were Americans returning home from Europe. A lot of the coins they were carrying back to the States were from the European countries they had visited on business or on vacation, of course, but I find it difficult not to think that at least a few of the coins they had were Buffalo nickels like the one below, dated 1929.

 

We’ve already talked here about Buffalo nickels as offhand gifts. And back in the days when a single 5-cent piece could buy a telephone call, or a postage stamp that would send a letter overseas, tip a shoeshine boy, buy a bottle of soda pop or a candy bar for a restless child, or buy a newspaper for an adult with time to kill—well, it made real sense to toss a two-dollar (40-coin) roll of nickels into the bag you were packing.

 

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And to also be sure that at least some of the nickels were saved for the trip home….

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Berengaria returned to Europe early in October 1929, and was soon back at sea on her way to New York. The quick turnaround made sense. There was money to be made. Good money—and a lot of it.

 

The American Twenties were a go-go decade almost to the end. But end they did, with a Crash.

 

Berengaria was at sea, on her way to New York, when the bottom dropped out of the stock market in October, 1929. As the story goes, some of the Americans who got on board the luxury liner in Europe as prosperous men and women, disembarked in New York as poor people.

 

The slang expression varies, but one common way of expressing personal poverty is to say “I don’t have two nickels to rub together.” Another way of putting it—older, probably—is to say “I don’t have two cents [or “pennies”] to rub together.”

 

The Indian Head cent was still in American pockets in October 1929—and of course more would reappear in circulation as the Depression deepened and families needed every stray coin—but as passengers got off Berengaria into the new world of post-Crash America, “Wheat” cents like these were more likely the pennies people were counting….

 

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It took some time for the seriousness of things to sink in, but it did—two cents at a time (two cents was the local price of a daily New York Times in 1929, and would remain so until the late-‘30s).

 

In the meantime there were still stories to read of far-away places, and of ocean cruises. Maybe more of them than before, in fact, as escape from daily realities became more and more important to folks.  (During the 1930s, for instance, Hollywood would rake in American dimes, quarters and half-dollars like never before.)

 

There was no shortage of radio and newspaper advertising intended to exploit that desire for escape, but even in the glamorous world of the big and fast trans-Atlantic liners, much of the advertising copy aimed smaller than before.

 

The Great Depression cut sharply into the demand for trans-Atlantic travel, so the great liners had to scramble to survive. Much of what the fast luxury liners did during those years was a definite comedown, but an odd job was better than no job.

 

There was still money around, enough that some folks could play—maybe even if they couldn’t really afford to. And a lot of the play—not surprisingly—involved the sort of alcoholic escape that Americans were legally forbidden. Well, legally forbidden at home in the U.S., and in its territorial waters.

 

So a Berengaria specialty became little four-day Prohibition-evading jaunts—so-called “booze cruises”—from New York to Nova Scotia and back. Cost? Just 50 of these….

 

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villa66

The 1928s Peace dollar is a fooler. American silver dollar production ended with the 1928 coins, and didn’t resume until 1934. But the explanation for the coining pause isn’t the same as it is for America’s Depression-era minor coins. That is, production fall-offs or outright stoppages after the 1929 Crash, returning (as the economy began slowly to revive) to near-normal production patterns in ’34-35.

 

But not the silver dollar, which had been melted in such large numbers (270M) during and immediately after WWI, mostly (259M) to provide silver to the British to cover their wartime needs in India.

 

Politics in the American republic being what they are—even during wartime—a deal had been struck to replace the melted silver dollars after the war. It was wasteful, impractical nonsense—the coins had been available for immediate use in 1918 because they weren’t really needed—or much wanted. Nevertheless…

 

Silver dollar production—which had been suspended after the 1904 coinages—resumed in 1921 and ran until 1928, when the 270M Pittman Act “meltees” had been replaced.

 

So it seems reasonable to say that as the last of the 1928-dated Peace dollars fell from the coin-presses, yet one more of the countless war-inflicted hangovers was finally at an end. Nineteen-eighteen was ten years gone, the commemorative hope expressed by these big silver coins—“PEACE”—was as yet still uncontradicted by events, and the passage of time was dulling many of the late war’s injuries.

 

Aboard Berengaria about the time this 1928s dollar was coined, I’ll bet passengers could hear one of the better British jibes of the time, about the war of 1914-18, “The noise…and the people.”

 

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villa66

But we’re not talking about pre-Crash 1928 here. For us it’s 1931 and full-on Depression. We were talking about what this silver dollar—as above, the newest available in 1931—could do when it came to Berengaria and (briefly) getting away from it all.

 

(What this coin could do in the way of “booze cruises” on the West Coast was really something—and this is, after all, a San Francisco coin. But another time, maybe. Back to Berengaria.)

 

“Prohibition”—the Constitutional Amendment that outlawed the sale and transport of alcoholic beverages in the U.S.—was passed in 1919. (Passed, it is sometimes said, because the men who would have opposed the ban were overseas serving in the armed forces.) At any rate, by 1931 Prohibition was widely (and literally!) regarded as a major buzz-kill.

 

So there was a ready market for “booze cruises,” and there were big ships out of work.

 

Berengaria was a famous ship, and some cachet still attached to travel aboard her, even if it was only one of her 50-dollar cruises from New York to Nova Scotia. The “booze cruise” from 11 July to 14 July 1931, for instance…

 

Surely there were some big silver dollars aboard to plunk down for a drink, or a round of drinks maybe, or even a bottle. And who knows what silver dollars bought in Halifax? A seafood dinner, maybe? With wine, of course. And with Prohibition in the saddle back home, who would have cared whether the wine served with their fish was the customary white, or just whatever color happened to be handy?

 

Back aboard Berengaria for the trip home, scattered in cabins around the ship on dresser-tops or maybe in the pockets of pants tossed on the floor or draped neatly over chairbacks, there were doubtless small handfuls of Canadian change…

 

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villa66

Low-value bronze, nickel and silver Canadians—Nova Scotians—random survivors of a good time ashore.

 

I note the large cent—Canada had introduced its new small cent in 1920, but its large cents were still circulating in ’31 (they weren’t withdrawn until 1937). And the 1901 Victorian dime—its worn condition is typical of these coins—was certainly swimming in Canadian commercial channels during the early-1930s.

 

And as the thirties wore on…

 

Berengaria was getting old. And tired? Well, she really had always been a bit tired—especially after her four-year WWI layoff. And the hard years of the Depression hadn’t been kind. She had lost her place as flagship when Cunard and White Star were forced to merge in 1934 and Majestic (ex-Bismarck) took her place at the head of the company pack.

 

Then there was the new German pair, Bremen and Europa, Italy’s Rex and the French Normandie. All had taken turns winning the Blue Riband by mid-1935. Britain’s own Queen Mary had been launched in ’34 and was fitting out all through 1935. Clearly, the writing was on the wall.

 

The years of scraping by on odd jobs, the staff cuts, the maintenance deferred or shortchanged—all of these things combined with Berengaria’s advancing age to lend her a definite rundown air, and gave rise to Berengaria’s newest and cruelest nickname: “Bargain-area.”

 

 Which would have made any American quarter-dollar aboard her—and there would have been some, as trans-Atlantic travel began to pick up by the mid-‘30s—well, any U.S. quarter aboard the “Bargain-area” would have contained the seed of a small joke.

 

The American quarter (descending as it does from the Spanish-American 2-reales piece) is, colloquially, “two-bits.” And in U.S. slang, anything called a “two-bit this,” or a “two-bit that,” is something cheap, cut-rate, rundown, second-rate, low-rent, bargain-bin, bargain-basement, bargain-area...  

 

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