White Star Line 1849 - 1934

White Star Line Buff and the White Star Line Flag.

By Michael. L. Dudley

Buff and Burgee

In my forty-six years of White Star Line interest and collecting I have long been amazed by those who make mysteries out of established knowns.

Two of these have been the color of the funnels of the White Star Line ships and what did the White Star Line House Flag look like.

White Star Line Buff, as the color has been called, was not a special color at all. It was a color used on other shipping line funnels such as the Red Star Line in the mid 1880's. There is plenty of reference materials available for anyone who wishes to research the subject and determine what "Buff" actually looked like. The subject has been complicated by some who apparently ignore the interaction of color in different light conditions which make certain colors appear lighter or darker. The color used was one that interacted with light, or diminished light, to high degrees.

As for the White Star Line House Flag; it has been erroneously claimed that it had its origins from the Figurehead of the Clipper Ship "Red Jacket" named after the great Indian Chief. This figurehead was depicted in company broadsides as having a white star on its chest which may have been a representation of the medal presented to him by President Washington in 1792. However, Pilkington and Wilson were flying the White Star Flag as early as 1849, and the earliest known depiction to the White Star Line Memorial Foundation of the White Star Line flag is from a letter dated 10th of August, 1852, more than a year before the "Red Jacket" was launched. The red swallowtail flag was a common flag among companies of the period. It is likely that the White Star was chosen simply because it was a rarity in the trade and an opposite of the Black Ball which was the symbol of Pilkington and Wilson's rival; James Baines.

S.S. Atlantic Cabin Card
A card from about 1872 showing the cabin arrangements on the "Atlantic." Notice the flag. (WSLMF collection.)

There was a spurious flag sold some years ago that was rectangular and reported to have been recovered from the S.S. Atlantic wreck of 1873. This is just fanciful imagination and displays a poor knowledge of White Star Line history. A telling fact the flag was not a White Star Line flag is the reality that relics recovered from the wreck of the Atlantic all show the swallow tail flag! All officially issued literature and publications about the Atlantic and her sisters show that the swallow tail is the only flag that ever appears, so to say the ship flew a flag other than the official White Star Line flag is just flying in the face of fact and historical evidence.

1872 White Star Line Ad and S.S. Atlantic Flag relic
An 1872 Ad showing the White Star Flag and a recovered relic from the Atlantic. (Brochure from the WSLMF Collection.)

Greg Cochkanoff was a dear friend of mine and well studied on the Atlantic wreck. Greg had made numerous dives to the site and recovered many relics, and never made mention of any "Atlantic flag" Given Greg's deep interest in the ship it is certainly something that would have caught his attention and would have came up in one of our many conversations.