Flying the flag
Companies adopted distinctive flags, known as houseflags to
distinguish them from national flags and signal flags. For
instance, P&O used colours of the royal families of Spain and
Portugal in its simple yet distinctive flag. Other companies used
initials, such as `AH` for Alfred Holt, or symbols such as that on
Shell`s flag. The company`s houseflag would usually be flown from
the ship`s tallest mast as it entered port.
Ellerman Line logo on a steam locomotive
Successful shipping companies were jealous of their reputations,
and wanted to be recognised. They were amongst the first businesses
to adopt what would now be called brand identities. For instance,
their houseflag would not only be flown from their ships when in
port. It would also appear in their advertisements, on their
stationery, on the cap badges of their officers, and even on the
crockery used on the ship.