Recently here at Pursers Locker we discussed in detail the silver service used upon the 'Olympic' class liners, it comes as no surprise then that White Star would appoint the same level of luxury and craftsmanship with the rooms paneling, furniture and fixtures.
A period postcard, with the somewhat misleading title of 'First Class Restaurant', the A'la carte was an alternative dining option that First Class passengers would pay an extra charge over the facilities of the ships First Class Dining Saloon. This extra facility proved so popular that a larger space was created for Titanic's Restaurant whilst building, Olympic's being extended in 1913, subsequently Britannic's would be larger still had she ever gone into commercial service.
This month Pursers Locker were lucky enough to secure three original dining room chairs from the legendary space onboard the RMS "Olympic". Two were purchased at a local East Sussex estate auction house, whilst a further third chair was purchased privately from a dealer at the International Ardingly Antiques Fair. I am happy to report that the first pair have already found homes in private UK collections, I now have one example left for sale in the UK, and three reproduction copies that currently reside in the United Staes in California. With a little more research we discovered the chairs hailed from an estate sale in Northern Ireland, a wealthy family house with connections to Harland & Wolff, removed from the Olympic during one of her refits, they remained in the family until the estate came up for sale.
The pictures detailed above show details of the beautiful carving found on the recently discovered chair that hailed from Northern Ireland, from the RMS "Olympic", this example is in spectacular condition for being well over 100 years old. Original padding but recent upholstery which is sympathetic to what was originally installed. The level of craftsmanship is extraordinary.
The reproductions modern day carved dinning room chairs were copied from an original example from the first Olympian's very own A'la carte restaurant. These three chairs are modern day exquisite hand carved copies.
The 'Olympic' class liners being built in the yards of Harland & Wolff in Belfast, made the upmost of the hundreds of skilled crafts people employed in the creation of the three gargantuan liners. Acres of wood paneling was installed within the maze of staterooms, public rooms, corridors and associated rooms. Some of the finest artisans of the day were employed in all aspects of interior finishing, from plasters to wood carvers, the ships were literal works of art. This level of attention could be found in every element of the ships, none more than the ships furniture. Exquisite carving by hand could be found on each of the hundreds of chairs from the A'la carte, First & Second Class dining rooms.
Perhaps some of the finest carving to be found on the ships furniture would arguably be the hand carved French Walnut chairs produced for the A'la carte restaurant. Every single element of the chair has hand carved and finished decoration. Completed in a loose French Louis XVI style to match the expensive French Walnut paneling and gilt decoration of the room, the chairs are a tour de fore of the skilled artisans of Harland & Wolff's Belfast yard. The chairs sing with the opulence of the gilded era, and feature many tell tale motifs that embodied the time. On the tops of the legs and arm supports we see highly stylised acanthus leaves, around the base of the seat is a support made up from laurel leaves, and framing the chair back is a repeating scroll pattern, all these design motifs being stylistically borrowed from the classical ancient world.
The chairs were first produced and designed in 1911 for the Olympic, later more were produced for her ill fated sister, Titanic. It had long been assumed that if chairs had been produced for the Britannic's Restaurant they would have remained in storage along much of her removed or uninstalled paneling at her builders, subsequently being re used on other ships built by Harland's. Indeed many of these chairs, produced for Britannic, can be seen on serval post war ships from period publicity material.
A c-1920's artists impression of a First Class corridor on the RMS 'Homeric', one of the Olympic'c post war running mates. Clearly shown in use are chairs from the A'la carte on the right hand side, it even appears these chairs retained their original upholstery.
2015 saw the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the third and final 'Olympic' Class liner, the Britannic. To mark this major milestone BBC Ireland produced an hour long feature documentary detailing the personal stories of those involved in the disaster, from contemporary accounts of the day. Great research was undertaken to find relatives of survivors that are alive today. In one fascinating account of the exploits of one of the ships nurses, a miss Sheila McBeth, recounted how after the ship had gone down and she was plucked out of the sea, a sailor pulled onboard a chair which has somehow escaped from the sinking hospital ship and floated to the surface. He broke off a section and presented it to the nurse as a form of souvenir of the days horrific events. Amazingly enough the piece of chair still survives and resides with pride of place within the family of that nurse. With further research it is clear that the chair was part of one of Britannic's intended A'la carte restaurant chairs! So although most were likely never installed or issued to the ship, at least some did make it to her for use.
A shot from the recent BBC Ireland documentary showing the families prized souvenir once belonging to the one of the ships nurses, miss Sheila McBeth.
A close up of the underside of the chairs back support from one of the copied chairs we have just purchased, and a flipped still taken from the recent BBC Ireland documentary showing the surving element of chair pulled from the waters moments after the Britannic sank.
Only a handful of these chairs are known to have survived, the majority of these around would be those sold at auction prior to Olympic being broken up in 1935. Some on the open market do probably hail from the batch originally created for use on Britannic, the majority held in storage in Belfast and re used post war on a host of White Star and other liners built by Harland's. Those on Titanic obviously still lie with her within her broken shell and are no more.
So we are proud to be able to offer an original chair from Olympic and three full reproduction chairs created within the last ten years to match an original which has now sold, reupholstered in a very accurate recreation of the chairs original patterned upholstery. The creator even went to the trouble to include the inset brass tab under the supporting rail that you would never see, the level of detail is mind-blowing.
The reproduction chairs hail from a great marine collector and historian based in Southern California who sadly passed away, he had them re created to match his original example so he had a set of four. The chairs remain in the US, they will be repatriated to the UK in the new year.
Pursers Locker acknowledges the help and support of our great friend Timothy Garlinghouse in securing these chairs and the photos for this blog, Timothy you are a star!