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

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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. 

From the MIAMI HERALD
Posted on Fri, Dec. 26, 2008
Laurence Miller donates memorabilia to Wolfsonian

BY TANIA VALDEMORO
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.

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