Flags of the British Mercantile Marine published by The Journal of Commerce and Shipping Telegraph in Liverpool represents an unusual and captivating snapshot of maritime identity in the British Isles. Its departure from traditional flag charts, which typically focus on international flags, is immediately apparent as it places significant emphasis on the flags of British merchant companies. The chart includes only a few international flags in the lower right corner, with the Weimar Republic's German merchant flag helping date the chart to between 1919 and 1933.
The array of flags illustrated in the chart maps the rich tapestry of British merchant enterprises operating at the time. The chart includes the flags of Donaldson Line, Dover Navigation Company, E. G. Downing, J. T. Duncan & Co., Dundee, Perth & London Shipping Co., and Thos. Dunop & Sons, among many others. Each flag on display signifies a unique narrative of maritime trade and the role it played in connecting the British Isles to the world.
A historical context of the chart unveils an era where British merchant enterprises were major players in international trade. The thriving industries in London, Liverpool, Cardiff, Dundee, and many other ports were significantly bolstered by the dynamic operations of these maritime companies. Their flags were symbols of their identity in the vast oceans, standing for their distinct heritage, business endeavors, and seafaring traditions.
Many of the flags sport intriguing symbolism. Among these, the flag of John I. Jacobs Co., Ltd., stands out for its proud inclusion of the Star of David. Jacobs was from a Jewish family from Swansea, he moved to London in 1880 to build a shipping fleet, first of sailing ships and later steamers. He specialized in shipping molasses from the Caribbean but during World War I, his tankers pivoted to fuel and oil, and many in his fleet were lost to German U-boats.