Measurements: Length: 19.7cm (7.75in)
Polished steal. Modelled and detailed with detachable barbed harpoon. The body inset with a removable Myflam of Offenbach ‘B 47’ lighter. The conical base bearing with presentation inscription ‘E. W. Oldham, / Christmas 1953 / Olympic Whaling Company / A. S. Onassis’.
Firmly a relic of a closed chapter in the history of seafaring, this Model 46 harpoon lighter provides an insight into the world of Aristotle Socrates Onassis (1906-1975), the Greek shipping magnate who amassed the world's largest privately owned shipping fleet, and became not only one of the world's richest men but one of the most famous, not least through his marriage to Athina Mary Livanos, his affair with Maria Callas and subsequent marriage to Jacqueline Kennedy.
Between 1950 and 1956 Onassis operated a whaling fleet off the Peruvian coast, employing almost exclusively German crews, and latterly deploying the factory ship Olympic Challenger. According to the whaling historian Klaus Barthelemess, ‘Hunting the largest animal was a thing naturally fascinating to a man like Onassis. He liked whaling, not just the business side, [which returned him a net profit $4.5m in his first year of operation] but also the very idea of it. He took friends whaling off Peru, and the furnishings of the bar on board his private yacht Christina were the gossip of the yellow press in his time, for the hand rails were pairs of sperm whale teeth, and the bar stools were covered in with whale penis skin. The lighters he had made in the form of a harpoon cannon were men’s toys, reflecting his own fascination with the hunt.’
Barthelemess has suggested the present harpoon lighter was made by a Hamburg manufacturer under the direction of Captain Sven Thienemann, a Second World War U-boat commander who led Onassis’s early operations off Peru. It was Thienemann who in 1954 oversaw the conversion of the former Canadian frigate H.M.C.S. Stormont into Onassis’s yacht Christina, which captained until 1956. Onassis’ whaling venture ended that same year when The Norwegian Whaling Gazette made accusations of malpractice based on the German sailors' testimonials. The business was sold to the Japanese for $8.5m. Moreover the Norwegian authorities raised concerns at the involvement of Hitler’s onetime finance guru Hjalmar Schacht in Onassis' whaling enterprise.