The outcome of the Mediterranean Conference held in Florence in 1906 was favourable to the Italian shipping lines, who obtained a larger share of the passenger trade from Italy to America. As a consequence, a few Italian entrepreneurs decided to enter the lucrative migrant trade. The most important of these new companies was the Lloyd Sabaudo, founded in Turin in that same year of 1906, with Genoa as the port of operation and of registry of their ships. The birth of the Lloyd Sabaudo caused concern among the existing Genoese shipowners, particularly Navigazione Generale, who immediately realised that the new company would be a serious competitor. As its name suggested, the Lloyd Sabaudo (“Lloyd of Savoy”) had Royal connections: it was financially supported by the Duke of Aosta’s branch of the House of Savoy, the Italian Royal family. NGI soon realised that their aggressive tactics against their competitors could hardly be used against the new company with its strong connections with the central power in Rome. The debt incurred in starting the company and in creating its fleet and the effects of the Great War meant that the early years of operation were critically difficult for the Lloyd Sabaudo but by the ‘Twenties it was growing rapidly. It absorbed the Cosulich group of Trieste which, in addition to the “Società Triestina di Navigazione” (the Cosuich Line) and the “Lloyd Triestino”, also included the Monfalcone shipyards and had a controlling interest in the San Marco and San Rocco yards and the “Fabbrica Macchine Sant’Andrea”, an engine-building concern, all of which were based in Trieste and had been very active since the mid-XIX century.
In 1932, the Lloyd Sabaudo and its Cosulich Line subsidiary were, together with the NGI, absorbed by the new national shipping company, Italia Flotte Riunite. It should be noted, however, that in the case of the Lloyd Sabaudo this was not a rescue operation: the company was one of the very few transatlantic lines to maintain a positive balance sheet after the worldwide financial crisis of 1929
On the 21st June, 1906 in Turin, Alessandro Cerruti and Eduardo Canali signed the deed recording the foundation of the Lloyd Sabaudo shipping company. Both were well-known in the Genoese business world, Cerruti in the maritime sector and Canali in insurance. Since the XIX century, Cerruti had been a maritime agent and had chartered ships for the emigrant trade. In 1904, he had bought out the famous agency of Gio Batta Gastaldi, founded in Genoa in 1860.
The foundation of the Lloyd Sabaudo was prompted by the 1906 Mediterranean Conference. Just months previously, the British company Prince Line had ordered two emigrant liners from the Sir James Laing & Sons shipyard at Sunderland (England), the Piedmontese Prince and her sister, the Sicilian Prince, with the intention of placing them on the Genoa – New York route. Alessandro Cerruti was the Italian agent for the Prince Line and when the outcome of the Mediterranean Conference caused them to reconsider their plans, he consulted his friend Eduardo Canali and they decided to take over the contract with the English shipyard for the building of the two ships and to become shipowners themselves. The order was, in fact, increased to three ships which were now named Re d’Italia (i.e. King of Italy), Regina d’Italia (Queen of Italy) and Principe di Piemonte (Prince of Piedmont). On the 7th April, 1907 the Re d’Italia sailed from Genoa on her maiden crossing to New York: it was the beginning of what would in the end prove to be a successful story. The new company ordered two further ships, this time from a Scottish yard (Barclay, Curle & Co.). To be launched as the Principe di Udine and the Duca di Genova, they were intended for the Latin American run. The story of the naming of the latter ship gives an insight into the ill-feeling between the new company and the Navigazione Generale Italiana. When NGI discovered the ship’s proposed name, they took it for their own latest vessel, under construction at the Ansaldo yard in Genoa, which they had originally intended to call Roma. Not without fierce protests, Lloyd Sabaudo eventually relinquished the name and called their own ship Tomaso di Savoia.
The vessels intended for the North American line were mainly fitted with steerage facilities for about 2,000 emigrants: they had only a small number of berths in cabins, about sixty.
The Tomaso di Savoia and her sister, on the other hand, had a central deck-house with de-luxe accommodation for about 100 first class passengers and, at the stern, a comfortable area devoted to another 100 passengers travelling in second class. There was also, of course, still mainly steerage accommodation for migrants. The creation of such a fleet in just two years inevitably burdened the company with a heavy load of debt and for some years the situation did not improve. In December, 1913, after another record loss of 1.1 million lire, the directors, adrift in the storm, were compelled to resign. The new board of directors, faced with a bankruptcy which seemed to be coming closer and closer, made a last attempt to save the company, entrusting the onerous task to the 40-year old Marquis Renzo Durand de la Penne.
This brilliant manager, formerly a captain with the Lloyd Italiano line, envisaged a recovery strategy which, in the event, proved extremely successful. He had met the famous scientist Guglielmo Marconi on board the Lloyd Italiano’s Principessa Mafalda and they had become friends; thanks to Marconi (who was later made honorary president of the Lloyd Sabaudo),
imprenditore scozzese Sir William Beardmore, proprietario dell’omonimo colosso industriale di Dalmuir, in Scozia, dove venivano costruite grandi navi, locomotive e addirittura aerei e dirigibili.
de la Penne was introduced to the powerful world of British shipping and, in particular, to Sir William Beardmore, head of the well-known Scottish company bearing his name – a large industrial concern based in Dalmuir which built ships, locomotives and even planes and airships.
Thanks to this smart move (which incidentally brought Italy and Guglielmo Marconi closer again), Sir William joined Lloyd Sabaudo’s board of directors and it was immediately decided to start the building of a large liner, the Conte Rosso, in order to face up to the forthcoming competition from the new vessels which had been ordered by the NGI and the Transatlantica Italiana.
Unfortunately, while the new ship was being constructed on one of the Dalmuir slipways, the First World War broke out. With prompt ingenuity, Lloyd Sabaudo managed to sell the almost completed hull to the British Admiralty and the Conte Rosso eventually went down in history as the H.M.S. Argus, the first aircraft carrier in the World to have a continuous flight deck.
At the end of the War, a new Conte Rosso was built by Beardmore and delivered in 1922; a sister, the Conte Verde, followed a year later and, in 1925, an enlarged and improved version, the Conte Biancamano, was completed. (Part of her forward superstructure is now preserved in the Leonardo da Vinci science museum in Milan.) The Conte Biancamano proved to be the last Italian liner to be built outside the country: the almost identical Conte Grande, completed in 1928, was built in Trieste, by the San Marco shipyard. This was an important test for the Italian yard, which had never before constructed a large passenger liner; a few years later, thanks to this experience and the know-how and the technologies thus acquired, the San Marco yard was able to create two of the finest passenger vessels ever: the Lloyd Triestino motor ship Victoria (1931) and the superliner Conte di Savoia (1932). They were two of the favourite liners on the international sea routes and made an enormous contribution to the worldwide prestige of the legend ‘Made in Italy’.
POSTCARDS & LITHOGRAPHS
The history of the publicity and promotional material of Lloyd Sabaudo differed from that of other shipping lines which had been born in the XIX century: it had a certain original and distinguishing style. On the one hand, the recently-formed company created its publicity department from scratch and was thus not influenced by old stereotypes; and also, it is plausible to think that the NGI placed a certain pressure on the artists from the Ligurian region who worked for it. Indeed, there are only rare cases of illustrators who worked for both companies. Despite its originality, the early promotion of Lloyd Sabaudo ships could not be defined as “modern”; certain historical references were prompted by the names of the company and its ships (which were, in any case, furnished in an old-fashioned style) and by the typically classical appearance of its British-built liners. In order to promote itself, the new company issued a good deal of printed matter: the “war” with NGI, at least at first, could be fought only in the publicity field and many of the items published by the new concern were much more sumptuous and attractive than those of its older rival. From the very beginning, Lloyd Sabaudo produced high quality prints, including colour postcards showing life on board and very evocative portraits of their ships at sea.
The best-known posters ever published by the Lloyd Sabaudo are those intended to promote the famous ships of the “Conti” class. The artists to whom they were entrusted, playing on the ships’ names, showed them riding the waves with, above them, the knights of the Savoy family, whose nicknames were given to the vessels: Amedeo VI (1334-1383) and his son Amedeo VII (1360-1391) became known as the Conte Verde (Green Count) and the Conte Rosso (Red Count) since they were always dressed in those colours on official occasions. Similarly, Amedeo VIII (1383-1451) was nicknamed Conte Biancamano (White Hand Count) because of his pale skin and milk-coloured hands. The Conte Grande of 1928 completed this series of four famous ships: Giuseppe Riccobaldi (Florence, 1887 – Genoa, 1976) produced what is possibly the company’s most famous poster: “The four Counts”. Just four years after the delivery of the Conte Grande, the new Conte di Savoia completely changed the whole image of the company: with her glamorous interiors in the contemporary style, this liner was at odds with the earlier Counts. The booklet published for her launch in 1931 is, for instance, a wonderful example of Art Déco illustration. It was, in fact, the last brochure issued by the Lloyd Sabaudo: the Conte di Savoia would enter service for the new Italia Flotte Riunite.
BROCHURES & FOLDERS
The effort involved in Lloyd Sabaudo’s project to create an instant fleet of six transatlantic steamers was huge but actually they were no bigger or better than their NGI rivals: in order to differentiate them it was important, therefore, to invest in publicity. There is an interesting contrast, for example, between the launch brochures of the NGI’s Re Vittorio and the Lloyd Sabaudo’s Tomaso di Savoia, both from 1908. The latter’s brochure exudes all the glamour of the Liberty style, with a beautiful signed cover and with decorative friezes at the edges of each inner page. On the contrary, the NGI, despite a slight improvement in quality, does not devote anything special to its new ship and there is no intent to renew the company’s public image.
There is the same contrast between the introductory campaigns for the Lloyd Sabaudo’s Conte Rosso and Conte Verde and those for the NGI’s contemporary Giulio Cesare and Duilio; and again with the Conte Biancamano and Conte Grande as opposed to their direct rivals Roma and Augustus. For the first two Counts, the company published a great variety of high quality brochures, booklets and folders, among them a hardbound 164-page book with a dry-stamped cover, inner pages of two different types of paper, a gold-leaf high-relief reproducing the commemorative medal of the launch, colour lithographs glued to the pages with fine perspective drawings of the main lounges, etc. Another large-format album (550x300 mm) is devoted to the first class décor and furnishing, with duotone reproduction of the numerous paintings and other decorative extravaganza devised by the interior designers, the Coppedé brothers. When all four Counts had been completed, another large album was published, this time with Riccobaldi’s poster reproduced on the cover, while the inner pages show photographs of the different rooms of the ships. There is an extremely large quantity of booklets and folders in different styles and format produced for the four Counts: all of them share a highly-researched graphic design and have been produced by complex printing and binding techniques, such as elaborate folding plates showing cut-away drawings of the steamers. Here, too, despite the fact that NGI were forced to raise the standards of their advertising, they could never reach those achieved by the Lloyd Sabaudo.