It has been a decade and a half of deck plans and tea cups, postcards and posters, furniture and fittings for Nautiques. 2016 is the fifteenth anniversary of the popular ocean liner memorabilia company going online. It also marks the tenth anniversary of ownership by Don Leavitt, who left a career in the inn business to immerse himself in the minutia of ship history.
“Nautiques began as a pastime but after getting rid of the print catalog and putting everything online, it became a full time job,” says Leavitt.
Everyday Leavitt packages up orders in his restored 1840s farmhouse in rural Vermont and ships them to customers in all 50 states and every corner of the globe. A recent trip to the post office saw orders going out to customers in New Zealand, France, Argentina, Britain, as well as the United States. Leavitt prides himself on getting orders out within 24 hours, and sometimes within minutes.
“Often, when I get an order in the morning, I will package it right up and take it over to my local post office, which conveniently is located a block away. My small town postmaster now knows more about international shipping than anyone in the state, and although she processes everything manually, she is faster than any computer,” says Leavitt.
Nautiques was started in 1984 by Atlanta decorator Leon Jackson who began buying fittings off the moth-balled SS UNITED STATES. Leavitt and best friend Rick Miller bought the collection in February of 2001, and trucked everything to northern New England in a rented U-Haul. First the items were housed in the balcony of the small town movie theater the friends owned, but later when Leavitt moved to Vermont the company moved with him. Sadly, Miller passed away in 2002 after a day of selling ocean liner memorabilia at a show. Read a touching tribute to Rick.
Unlike most nautical memorabilia sites, Leavitt sells items not only from the grand era of ocean liners, but also from ships of more recent vintage and lines unfamiliar to most North Americans. A recent survey of his web site found a travel agency painting of the ill-fated LUSITANIA, glassware from the UNITED STATES, deck plans for a fleet of Dutch freighters that sailed to the Far East in the 1950s, postcards of early Carnival ships, and a brochure for ship service from Japan to Manchuria in 1932.
Another hallmark of Nautiques is the research behind each item. Leavitt has degrees in both history and journalism, and will often spend hours researching history to make sure the item descriptions he writes are accurate and reflect a taste of times when the ship sailed. In fact says Leavitt, many of the people who subscribe to his weekly list of new items do so just to read the descriptions and examine the photos.
A few Nautiques specials - Don's visit with Frank Braynard, the legendary author and memorabilia collector, Nautiques customer Jim Oxborrow who creates magnificent ship stained glass windows, and collector Scott Davis who as a teenager got to tour the mothballed SS UNITED STATES.