This item is a joy to both the collector of travel memorabilia and the steam-punk enthusiast. There are so many ways to geek out on this wonder, a late Victorian invention specially designed to the specifications of the great Pacific & Orient Shipping Line that knit together that British Empire on which the sun never set, for the convenience of its passengers, by a small specialist British firm that brought innovation and ingenuity to every detail of its product. A sine qua non of the traveling Empire builder’s kit, its patent is dated 1884, and it was awarded a gold medal at the Calcutta Exhibition of that year. Savor the inset wooden slats, the watertight fit of the lid and latches that would have allowed it to float in case of mishap, and the tiny built-in wheels that permitted it to slide under a berth or a bunk on a boat or a train operated by the mighty P & O, with hardly an inch to spare.
The Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, which is usually known as P&O, is a British shipping and logistics company which dates from the early 19th century.
Mail contracts were the basis of P&O’s prosperity until the Second World War, but the company also became a major commercial shipping line and passenger liner operator. In 1914, it took over the British India Steam Navigation Company, which was then the largest British shipping line, owning 131 steamers. In 1918, it gained a controlling interest in the Orient Line, its partner in the England- Australia mail route. Further acquisitions followed and the fleet reached a peak of almost 500 ships in the mid 1920s. In 1920, the company also established a bank, P&O Bank, that it sold to Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China (now Standard Chartered Bank) in 1927. At this time it established a commercial relationship with Spinney’s of Haifa, that developed into a major regional high-end grocery store chain, which eventually provided shipping services access to much of the Middle East. Eighty-five of the company’s ships were sunk in the First World War and 179 in the Second World War.
This was a small family owned metalworks in England that found its niche manufacturing specialized trunks and boxes for British and Colonial travelers until the sun finally set on the Empire. A specialty were their lines of waterproof and purportedly unsinkable steel luggage. The firm was defunct by 1936.