Q This table and lamp have been in my family since the early 1940s. According to my mother, my great-uncle purchased them from an ocean liner that was commissioned to carry troops in World War II. All fancy furniture was sold to make room for the soldiers. The table and lamp were said to have decorated a hallway on the ship. The lamp has a nameplate Astronomie by L. Moreau. I’ve loved this table and lamp since I was a child, but have never been able to find any information about these types of sales during WWII. Can you help me?
This decorative lamp may have come off an ocean liner that was thencommissioned as a World War II troops carrier. (Photo courtesy of JaneAlexiadis)
A When I read your note I thought, ”another apocryphal family story.” I’d never heard of these sales of fancy shipboard furniture. However, family stories usually have a grain of truth so I did some asking around.
I contacted Gina Bardi, the reference librarian for the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, and asked her about this practice. She explained that yes, it’s absolutely true. The Fifth Amendment (1791) to the U.S. Constitution outlines the circumstances under which the government can take private property for public use (eminent domain) and explains that “just compensation” be granted the owners of that property.
Hundreds of ships were given over to the military and were converted to floating hospitals or armed defense vessels. Cruise ships, however, were uniquely suited to conversion into troop carriers: They were the faster than anything the military had; cabins could be easily converted to bunk barracks; kitchens and dining quarters could feed thousands of troops.
Space on board was precious. In order to maximize the number of troops transported, ship owners removed art, pianos and furniture — anything not essential to the military’s needs — and stored the property to be reinstalled after the war. Not all ships returned, so the furnishings were never reinstalled; owners of some returning ships used the conversion back to luxury liners as an opportunity to update the interior furnishings. Surplus furnishings were sold.
This octagonal-top table may have come off an ocean liner that was thencommissioned as a World War II troops carrier. (Photo courtesy of JaneAlexiadis)
So, yes, your family story could very well be true. The decorative grandness of your lamp and table indicate that they might well have been cruise ship furnishings. Unfortunately, unless your pieces are marked some way as belonging to a specific ship or company, or unless you could find a period photograph of a ship interior showing these pieces, the story does not translate into added monetary value.
Without provenance, your side table with octagonal top would sell in the $100 range. Your lamp, fashioned from a mass-produced spelter statue by Louis Moreau’s family factory, might bring $150 to $200.
Here in the Bay Area, ships owned by Matson and by American President Lines were converted for military use. For more information, visit the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park, Museum and Research Center (and tour the Balclutha or Pampanito) or check out their website, www.nps.gov/safr.
Jane Alexiadis is a personal property appraiser. Send questions to email@example.com.
Published at Thu, 03 Nov 2016 17:00:01 +0000