Cruise Ship History: Laurence Miller donates steamship memorabilia to Miami’s Wolfsonian-FIU Museum



This is a luggage label for Cunard White Star Cruises dating back to 1949. The label is part of the Laurence Miller Collection of ocean liner and cruise ship materials at The Wolfsonian-Florida International University in Miami Beach. 

Posted on Fri, Dec. 26, 2008
Laurence Miller donates memorabilia to Wolfsonian

A former university official donated his extensive collection of vintage ocean liner and cruise ship memorabilia — such as menus, stationery and deck plans — to the Wolfsonian-FIU Museum earlier this month.  Laurence Miller, former executive director of Florida International University’s libraries, started amassing his collection, which also includes postcards and brochures, in the 1950s.

Those 15,000 to 20,000 items, which span between the years 1950 and 2000, now complement the museum’s own collection of cruise ship memorabilia from the 1930s and 1940s.

”I’m delighted to have found the perfect home for my collection,” said Miller in a statement. The Kendall resident, who travels extensively on cruises and writes about the cruise-line industry, could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

Museum officials said he was likely — where else? — on a holiday cruise.

”The collection and the books that support it provide a rather complete description of the modern cruise industry’s history and development,” said Miller, who served as head of FIU’s libraries from 1981 to 2005.

The materials show the industry’s shift from catering exclusively to wealthy passengers to a wide range of tourists.

Miller began collecting items in the 1950s as a teen. He would write to the chief stewards of ocean liners and ask them to send him menus.

Francis Luca, the Wolfsonian’s librarian, said the donation is valuable because Miller preserved items that otherwise would have been lost.

”This is all unusual in a certain sense because collections like this don’t exist,” said Luca, who is cataloging the items in the museum’s database. “Cruise lines don’t keep materials like this.”

Among the notable items, Luca pointed to deck plans of international cruise ships such as Pinard.

”Some of these plans are larger than your average poster. They show the floor plans of cabins, so people can see where the windows and the toilets are,” he said.

Luca said it would take some time to sort and classify each item in the collection. In the future, the Wolfsonian-FIU Museum intends to have an exhibit to show the items.

”We’re thrilled to have this collection,” Luca said.



About Michael L. Grace

During the mid-80s, Michael Grace worked as a writer on the TV Hit Series THE LOVE BOAT. He wrote many of the two hour special featuring great stars of the past, including Lana Turner, Claire Trevor, Anne Baxter, Ethel Merman, Alexis Smith, etc. The public’s access to these stars, in familiar dramas and comedies, made them want to go on a cruise. They could see the stars in an ordinary world as “regular” people. The phenomenally successful series was responsible for creating the cruise industry as we know it today. By the time he was writing for Love Boat, the great steamship companies and their liners were flying hand me down foreign flags, painted like old whores, scrapped or doing three day cruises to the Bahamas. He had sailed on over thirty ships and liners with his parents, aunt and grandmother in late 50s to early 70s. The very successful CRUISING THE PAST website has been an outgrowth of Michael’s strong interest in cruise and social history. Drawing on his own knowledge and a vast maritime and social history collection, he is able to produce a very successful website. Michael is part of the award winning team that created the internationally performed award winning musical SNOOPY, based on PEANUTS by Charles M. Schultz. He has written for television and films. Read more by going to "About" (on the above dashboard) and clicking "Editor"…