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villa66

Coins and Imperator/Berengaria: 1910-1946.

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villa66

But there was a joke within the joke—by 1935, two-bits was more money than it used to be. The silver quarter was cash, of course—special enough in the hardscrabble ‘30s—but the deflation-wracked years of Depression had given this coin some extra buying power.

 

(Two-bits could well have bought breakfast on the way to the boat. Well, maybe a better breakfast outside the city, on the way into town—and the boat.)

 

The 1935 quarter-dollar above is from the “mother” mint at Philadelphia. It’s the most numerous American quarter to that time—more were coined than any other date 1796-1934—and as such is reflective of the then-reviving American economy. (In fact, new production records for quarter-dollars would be set by Philly three years running, in ’34, ’35, and ’36.)

 

Trans-Atlantic travel was also on the rebound as business improved, and—though this particular passenger probably also owed his trip to the Depression-fueled escapism mentioned earlier—who knows what small change may have been in the pockets of actor Peter Lorre as he boarded R.M.S. “Bargain-area” in November, 1935, for the UK and his role in Alfred Hitchkock’s Secret Agent?

 

Perhaps Mr. Lorre boarded Berengaria with a 1935 quarter like the one above (having skipped breakfast that morning!), or maybe he had a 1935 half-dollar like the one below….

 

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villa66

It’s this 1935 half-dollar—of all the coins mentioned here—that’s a part of the clearest, cleanest, most indelibly happy image….

 

I can imagine it loose in shallow blue-green water, just below the surface, zig-zagging through the sun-sparkles toward a white sandy sea-bottom. But not quite getting there—because an underwater-swimmer’s hand reaches out to snag it.

 

What is it about Berengaria that helps the imagination create such an image?

 

Bermuda, 1936.

 

No matter the improving condition of the trans-Atlantic trade, by ’36, Berengaria simply wasn’t “the” ship any more. Other liners had the glamour, and for the “Bargain-area,” odd jobs in the off-season had become a routine fact of life, even after the end of Prohibition.

.

So it was New York to Bermuda, in September 1936. The tourist’s “home movie” that I’ve seen from that cruise is in black-and-white, but the bright sunshine is unmistakable. Berengaria is anchored in deeper water offshore and a tourist-friendly harbor-tender is ferrying passengers in from the big liner.

 

The old film records a few seconds of joyful commotion among a group of swimmers at dockside—it seems the tourists were tossing coins into the water.

 

So the imagination works overtime and there it is, a silver half-dollar, big and bright and loose in shallow blue-green water, just below the surface, zig-zagging through the sun-sparkles toward a white sandy sea-bottom…

 

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villa66

But my imagination notwithstanding, 50-cent pieces like the one above probably stayed in folks’ pockets. There were bicycles to rent on shore, carriages too, and a whole island to see, and shop.

 

Besides, it was a low-cost cruise—an economy vacation. And back home the wolf was still at the door. (The American unemployment rate, while falling, was still 17%.) It just wasn’t the time or place to throw money around. Not big money, anyway.

 

So I think if any American silver hit the water that sunny September day in 1936 Bermuda, it was much more likely a thin dime—10-cents—like this one.

 

Still a pretty image, a silver Merc zig-zagging through the water, but…oh well.

 

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villa66

Once the exploring and the spending were finished, what coins were the tourists likely to take home? I guess maybe a few might have been American coins that local businesses were trying to get shed of—a “Mercury” dime, maybe? Still wet?

 

But it was British homeland coinage being used in Bermuda—and there was always the British crew’s usual pocket change—so I expect many, if not most of the coins Berengaria was taking back to New York that September were British.

 

So what coin to choose here? Mature colonial coinage systems remote from the source of new coins—Bermuda, for instance—are often numismatic backwaters. Older and more worn coins are circulating than at home, and certain dates and denominations are over-represented, depending on what got shipped to the colony, and when.

 

I have no pertinent information on coin shipments to Bermuda, so I’ll lean on another dynamic of colonial coinage—in mature systems that use homeland coinage, almost anything might arrive from home, at almost any time. (On board a British ocean liner, for instance.)

 

Big British pennies were always a target of American tourists—the size contrast with our own much smaller “penny” was a natural draw. And the British pennies of 1936, like this one—now a dignified brown, but then a bright mint red—were a special target for souvenir hunters and hoarders that year. Many folks just wanted a memento of the late king, of course. But others thought—since George V had died so early in the year—that his coins were scarce and would soon become valuable.

 

So maybe if a ‘36 penny like this was loose in Bermuda in September that year, it got aboard  Berengaria. Or a member of the crew….

 

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villa66

The souvenir hunters did well, but the hoarders were disappointed. The 1936 penny remains a profoundly common coin. (In the eleven decades of the bronze British penny, only the 1966 and 1967-dated coins were produced in greater numbers.)

 

But on King Edward VIII, who had been aboard Berengaria as the Prince of Wales a dozen years earlier, there had been a foreshadowing of the royal upset of 1936.

 

Writing in his 1951 memoir, A King’s Story, Edward said “there was one question asked me by an American journalist on this 1924 trip about which I never told my father. As the Berengaria steamed into New York Harbour, the ship-news reporters swarmed around me, asking all manner of question: what ties and socks I wore, did I like America, and what was I going to do. Suddenly there popped out through the front row of burly newspapermen, the pert figure of a young woman. In a piping voice she asked, ‘Would you marry an American gal if you fell in love with her?’ In the delighted laughter of the other reporters and the somewhat disdainful guffaws of my British companions my affirmative answer was lost.”

 

We all know how it turned out: Edward got himself an American wife and Britain got herself a new king.

 

So Britain’s year-of-three-kings passed into history, and the new year—1937—brought the coronation of George VI. Along with him came his new pennies. (Edward VIII left behind only a few patterns, but the prospective Edward VIII penny reverse was used for the pennies of his younger brother.)

 

A 1937 penny, from very near the end of the long line of coins that could possibly have sailed the Atlantic aboard Berengaria

 

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villa66

Big British pennies were once a household must-have when it came to cold weather and cold weather work, and both were in the offing for Berengaria. (Shaving and dressing on a chilly morning, trying to get ready for a long day outside? Got to have a stack of pennies in the house for the penny-in-the-slot gas meter!)

 

Things began to happen fast for Berengaria. She had been scheduled to remain in service until 1940, but after a trans-Atlantic trip to New York in late-February-early-March 1938, she suffered yet one more of her many electrical fires.

 

The authorities in New York wouldn’t issue her a certificate to carry passengers, so Berengaria quickly departed for home, empty. She remained in Southampton, idle, until December 1938, when—having been sold for scrap—she sailed for Jarrow on the River Tyne.

 

She had been sold to Sir John Jarvis, whose avowed purpose was to help the depressed economy of the area, and so it did—some 200+ local men were hired to do the scrapping. At the time, Berengaria was the largest ship ever to be broken up for scrap, so of course the process soon became newsreel fodder (her middle stack came down first).

 

Winter-work is how the job began. Cold mornings and, well, just cold. But it was good to have work. Any work. And it was good to have coins to plug those penny-in-the-slot gas meters.

 

Again, a bit of copper-colored, 1937-dated, household warmth….

 

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villa66

The work began immediately, getting ready for the giant mid-January auction of Berengaria’s furniture and fixtures. The “Jarrow men” would’ve begun to have new money in their pockets, thanks to the dying Berengaria, and the money (or at least the promise of it) began to spread around town.

 

I expect the Christmas of 1938 was a lot merrier in Jarrow than it had been the year before. Families had more of the big bright pennies for Christmas stockings, for one thing. (And the Royal Mint had stopped its Grinch-like toning of the pennies a couple or so years earlier, which helped.)

 

I expect the Christmas dinner tables were better set, and the people around them—I’ll bet—laughed more easily.

 

And I’ll bet, because of all that clambering on, in and around Berengaria, preparing to cut her up, that the Christmas puddings in Jarrow that winter were bigger and better than the year before. And the silver threepences hiding inside the puddings—I’ll bet—had been easier to lay hands on.

 

(It was more than just custom that required the threepences used in the Christmas pudding to be the usual silver coin—I’ve read that there was considerable nervousness about the behavior of the new brass threepence in pudding!)

 

And I’ll note also that the silver coin was supposed to have been more popular in nearby Scotland than it was further south.

 

A celebratory silver threepence…

 

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villa66

But Berengaria did not continue to speed to her end. War came again to Europe in September 1939, and with the bulk of the job done—she had been scrapped to her waterline—final demolition of the old liner had to wait. (Time and labor are always in short supply during wartime; I wonder if that 2,000 tons of cement in her bottom contributed to the delay?)

 

The year 1940 passed into the history books, as did the long terrible years 1941, 1942, 1943, and 1944. The sad cut-down hulk that had been Berengaria, and Imperator before that, well, she was still afloat, waiting.

 

And then came the news—

 

“ADVANCE BRITANNIA” shouted the “VE‑Day Victory Edition” of the Evening Standard, which, for a penny, a Briton could have picked up at a newsstand the evening of 8 May 1945. “Brief rejoicing—then Japan” it cautioned.

 

A penny for the paper…

 

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villa66

The scrapping of Berengaria finally resumed after the war, and after one last trip, to Scotland—she was towed up to Rosyth on the Firth of Forth, in July 1946.

 

Not long thereafter, Berengaria/Imperator ceased to exist. 1910-1946. What a parade of years.

 

And what a parade of coins must have accompanied that ship during that quarter-century of work (1913-1938). We’re all coin-people here, and everyone will have their own ideas, but I guess I’ll end this with another British florin, a 1946.

 

I suppose a florin like this one could have got aboard Berengaria/Imperator, if only in the pocket of one of the workers doing that final demolition. But if not, it’s a good bet, I think, that doing that final clean-up work would somehow have put a 1946 florin into a pocket, or a purse.

 

I find I don’t want to end this. But I will, by simply saying that the British silver coins of 1946, like this one, were the last silver coins struck for circulation in the United Kingdom. Their withdrawal began straightaway, and the recovered silver…stop!

 

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:D v.

Modificato da villa66

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petronius arbiter

@villa66, awesome thread! Well-known coins, but great idea for their presentation :good:

Missing only a small thing ;)
 
8.jpg
 
petronius :)

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villa66

Grazie petronius. And a favor, forse? Can you possibly find and post for comparison a picture of this liner in her days as Imperator, with that enormous bronze eagle at her bow?

 

:D v.

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petronius arbiter
15 ore fa, villa66 dice:

Can you possibly find and post for comparison a picture of this liner in her days as Imperator, with that enormous bronze eagle at her bow?

Imperator, painted by Hans Bohrdt (detail)

imperator hans bohrdt.jpg

Imperator at Kuhward's harbor, 1913

imperator kuhward1913.jpg

Eagle detail, but not very clear, sorry

imperator kuhward2.jpg

petronius :)

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