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.