Over the years, I've wondered about the large ocean-going passenger ship under steam power that is depicted arriving in San Francisco Bay and about to pass under the new bridge; the smaller ship seen is a local ferry.
Was the ship purely a generic/composite depiction of a contemporary passenger liner or was it based on an actual/named passenger ship that frequented San Francisco? Was it coming home following a cruise in the Pacific Ocean or following a trip in the Atlantic Ocean and a transit of the Panama Canal? What ship(s) inspired Jacques Schnier (the coin's designer) to include such as part of the coin's reverse design?
I decided to look into the ship a bit more recently and believe I can make a case for Schneir's design inspiration coming from the Matson Lines' four passenger ships that made up its "White Fleet" of ocean-going passenger liners of the time; the nickname was derived from the use of white paint to cover the hull of each ship.Exhibit A
The Matson Lines "White Fleet" routinely traveled between the US West Coast and Hawaii, Australia and/or Asia. It was comprised of the SS Malolo,
the SS Mariposa,
the SS Monterey
and the SS Lurline.
San Francisco was a port called upon by each of the ships, so would have been familiar ro Schneir.Exhibit B
The four ships were designed by William Francis Gibbs, were physically similar and shared profiles. They were two-stack ocean-going passenger liners that used steam propulsion The first ship built, the SS Malolo,
in 1927, was 582 feet in length, the other three, completed between 1931 and 1932, were each 632 feet in length. Their shared features would have made it easy for Schneir to combine them into a representative/composite visual for the coin.Exhibit C
The SS Malolo
and the SS Lurline
provided regular express service between San Francisco and Hawaii. The SS Mariposa
and the SS Monterey
also sailed to Hawaii, but regularly stopped at multiple ports on the US West Coast (including San Francisco), as well as ports in Australia and Asia. As they all visited San Francisco, local artist Schneir would likely have witnessed an "arrival scene" similar to the one he depicted on the coin on multiple occasions - though the completed bridge would not always have been part of the scene. Based on their regular SF-Hawaii route assignment, it seems Schneir would most likely have observed the SS Malolo
and the SS Lurline
with the greatest frequency. Exhibit D
While a two-engine, two-stack design was certainly not unique to Matson, it was a match for the company's California-based "White Fleet" passenger liners of the day and would have represented a common site for Schneir. I was able to rule out some other two-stack ships of the day - for example, the SS Manhattan
- due to scheduled routes of such ships not including San Francisco (or even California) in their regular seagoing itineraries.
So, though I can't say with 100% certainty that the passenger liner on the coin is a Matson Lines ship, I am fairly confident that such ships were a significant source of inspiration for Schneir!SS Malolo Off San Pedro, CA - 1927(Image Credit: U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Public Domain.)1936 Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge Opening Half Dollar
For other of my posts about commemorative coins and medals, including more on the Bay Bridge Opening half dollars, see: Commems Collection.