RMS Titanic collectibles (sunken ocean liner memorabilia)

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2015-06-26 10:45:55

RMS Titanic collectibles comprise a range of memorabilia items salvaged from the wreck following – and also other items relating to – the sinking of the RMS Titanic, the Belfast-built ocean liner which sank on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York on 15 April 1912. Items with a direct link to Titanic are becoming increasingly rare on the open market.

The disaster

The ship, carrying 2,200 people, sank in 1912 in the Atlantic Ocean during its maiden voyage between the British port of Southampton and New York, after it struck an iceberg. At least 1,496 people were killed in the world's greatest maritime tragedy, and some 306 bodies were recovered.

Titanic survivors’ collections

Millvina Dean

In April 2009, the Titanic’s last living survivor Millvina Dean, then aged 97, auctioned her memorabilia from the sinking ship to pay her nursing home fees. Dean was lowered from the deck of the sinking ship as a two-month-old baby.

A canvas mailbag stencilled I.S. New York, used to carry the family's belongings back from New York after the tragedy, and a collection of her Titanic-related photographs, altogether raised £5,000.

Barbara Dainton-West

A large collection owned by another passenger Barbara Dainton-West, who was only ten months old when the Titanic sank, made £60,000. Ms Dainton-West passed away in October 2007.

Flask

Among her lots was a treasured flask which was handed to her mother in a lifeboat, full of hot milk.

Key

A hefty key to a door on the ship's E deck made £60,000 and was sold to a collector.

Letters and documents

A letter from First Class passenger Adolf Saalfeld - the first letter to be sent from a paying passenger - fetched £30,000. It reads:

''I just had an hour's roaming about on this wonderful boat. I like my cabin very much-its like a bed-sitting room and rather large. I am the first man to write a letter on board. They are still busy to finish the last things on board''.

Meanwhile, a letter by Chief Officer Henry Wilde made £26,000, and a launch ticket made £23,000.

Notable sales

Wallace Hartley's violin

The world's most expensive piece of Titanic memorabilia ever sold is the violin played on the ship by band leader Wallace Hartley.

The tale of how the band played on to calm the passengers as the ship sank has passed into legend, with a newspaper at the time stating "the part played by the orchestra on board the Titanic in her last dreadful moments will rank among the noblest in the annals of heroism at sea." All eight members of the band including Hartley remained at their posts, knowing there would be no lifeboats to save them.

Hartley's body was recovered from the ocean along with his violin, which was strapped to him in a leather case. It was later returned to his fiance Maria Robinson, who had gifted him the violin as an engagement present. It was later given to the Salvation Army by Robinson's sister in 1939, and then passed into the hands of a family who stored it for 70 years.

Auctioneers Henry Aldridge & Son spent seven years researching the instrument, after it was rediscovered in an attic. This included a CT scan of the violin, scientific testing by the Gemological Association of Great Britain, research by Wallace Hartley's biographer Christian Tennyson-Ekeberg and a host of international Titanic experts. In March 2013 the company announced that the violin was the genuine article, and after a three-month exhibition in the U.S it was sold on October 19, 2013 for the record price of £900,000.

Crow’s nest key

In September 2007, Henry Aldridge auctioneers of Devizes, Wiltshire, auctioned the key which opened the binoculars store aboard the Titanic. The key was tagged "Crows Nest Telephone Titanic” – but was not on the ship when it sailed from Southampton.

It was in the pocket of an officer transferred off the vessel days before its maiden voyage. He forgot to hand it to his replacement as he left – and as a result lookouts had to rely on the naked eye. The key (or absence thereof) is regarded as playing a key role in the ship’s sinking.

One lookout, Fred Fleet, who survived, told the official inquiry that if they had had binoculars they would have seen the iceberg sooner. When asked how much sooner, Fleet replied: "Enough to get out of the way."

In the end, it fetched £90,000 at auction, sold to an anonymous telephone bidder.

Record sale of Adolphe Saafeld’s letter

In April 2010, a letter from a first-class passenger on the Titanic fetched £55,000 at auction - a record price for a piece of written correspondence from the ship. It was one of 350 lots of White Star Line memorabilia sold by auctioneer Henry Aldridge and Son in Wiltshire.

The letter was written by first-class passenger Adolphe Saafeld. Explaining the appeal of the artefact, auctioneer Andrew Aldridge said:

'The content is superb. It gives a real first person perspective of what life was like onboard, through the eyes of a first-class passenger, right down to the food, the size of the cabin and the decoration. While other letters exist, this is the best example of its kind due to the depth of its detail.'

Alfred Rowe’s ‘premonition’ letter

An apparent premonition of the Titanic disaster was written in a letter by a passenger on board the doomed liner that set sail from Southampton in 1912. The letter emerged nearly 100 years after the ship's sinking.

In it, a businessman named Alfred Rowe described the ship as "too big" and a "positive danger" in a letter home to his wife Constance. The letter, on Titanic headed notepaper, was made available for auction by Mr Rowe's family in March 2007.

It was sold alongside a diary account by his widow, written after she heard news of the sinking.

Tommy Knowles’s discharge certificates

A November 2010 auction of Titanic memorabilia in Southampton, United Kingdom, was predicted to spark a “international bidding war” after collectors from the USA, a number of European countries and the UK expressed strong interest prior to the sale.

Lots which inspired strong interest included three discharge certificates belonging to the late, Tommy Knowles of Lymington, who twice survived being shipwrecked during his sea career. Knowles was an engine room storekeeper on the White Star liner, Titanic, when it sank after striking an iceberg on her maiden crossing from Southampton to New York in 1912.

Other notable sales

Letters

In January 2009, two letters from Titanic passengers appeared for sale in New York - one of them featuring an excited description of the doomed ship just moments before setting sail.

Letters on White Star Lines stationary inscribed with "On board RMS Titanic" are "extremely rare and are among the most prized artifacts from the disaster," said Robert Litzenberger, a specialist at Spink Smythe auction house, when interviewed before the sale.

The letters were estimated at $10,000 to $20,000 dollars each, and were auctioned online.

Telegrams

A collection of Titanic Memorabilia was auctioned on Thursday 4th March at Cheffins Auctioneers in Cambridge, United Kingdom.

The collection included a rare gestetner Marconigram from the SS Virginian to the Captain of the Olympic, date 16th April 1912, received at 8.45am. It reads:

‘HEAR RUMOURS THAT WE HAVE SURVIVORS ON BOARD THIS IS NOT SO I HAVE NONE AT 10am YESTERDAY WHEN 30 MILES FROM POSITION OF DISASTER RECEIVED MARCONI FROM CARPATHIA AS FOLLOWS;-TURN BACK NOW EVERYTHING OK WE HAVE 800 ABOARD RETURN TO YOUR NORTHERN TRACK—I CONSEQUENTLY PROCEEDED…’.

Other items such as rare postcards from survivors and telegrams reporting the disaster were also sold in this collection, with estimates ranging from £50 to £2,000.

Postcard

A POSTCARD from a Glaswegian mum who died on the Titanic was auctioned for s12,000 in October 2010.

Third class passenger Eliza Johnston told her father-in-law of her children's excitement as they prepared for a new life in America. She sent the card to Aberdeen from Cobh in Ireland while the vessel was docked there on its maiden voyage in April 1912.

Blood-stained lifejacket

A blood-stained, oily lifejacket from the Titanic sold for £34,000 at a New York auction in June 2009. It was sold by Christie’s.

The cork-filled jacket, which is also torn in parts, is believed to be one of only six still existing from the doomed ocean liner. It was found by farmer John James Dunbar after the ship hit an iceberg and sank off Newfoundland in April 1912.

Christie’s said it was thought Mr Dunbar had been aboard one of the ships sent out to search for bodies after the tragedy.

It was possible the lifejacket had been on someone pulled from the water, reported United Kingdom newspaper the Daily Mail.

Picture frame

In 2005, Bonhams sold a picture frame made from Titanic driftwood by Bertram T King of the SS Minia, who helped save survivors. It brought $16,450, whilst a rare original White Star Line Titanic Return Poster (cancelled when she did not return) brought $28,200.

Food menu

A menu of the meals for third class passengers on board, which survived in the handbag of Sarah Roth, a Third Class Passenger who was rescued by the Carpathia in lifeboat C, brought $44,650 at Bonhams in 2005.

Steward Edmund Stone’s rusty key

In April 2009, UK newspaper the Telegraph reported that a rusty key from the Titanic was expected to bring £50,000 at auction. It sold at Henry Aldridge & Son for £84,000.

The key enabled the Titanic's crew to try to rescue hundreds of mail bags from the sinking ship. It was for the door of a staff stairwell which was opened so that the crew could start unloading the mail from the bowels of the ship.

It belonged to Edmund Stone, 33, a first-class bedroom steward, who perished when the Titanic sank. The brass tag on the key is engraved "SERVICE FORd 'E' DECK".

Attempts to rescue the mail failed and all of the bags were lost when the ship went down.
However, by using his key to unlock the door to the stairwell, Mr Stone may have enabled passengers and crew to use the exit to go on deck and get into lifeboats.

The key and other artefacts were recovered when Mr Stone's dead body was recovered from the water.

2008 auction of Mr Stone’s artefacts

In October 2008, eight of Mr Stone's artefacts raised £235,000 at auction, including his watch which fetched £94,000.

The silver-plated watch, which did not work, had its hands frozen in time at 2.16 - four minutes before the ship went down. It is thought the watch was either slow or Mr Stone fell into the water four minutes before the ship went down.

Withdrawal of pocket watch from auction

In March 2008, a collector who was selling a pocket watch found on the frozen body of the last victim to be recovered from the Titanic had a change of heart and cancelled the auction.

The watch, which had belonged to Dumfries-born steward Thomas Mullin, was put up for sale on internet auction site eBay on March 13 with a starting bid of only $100 (£50). With 36 hours to go, and bids having reached $23,000 (£11,500), East Grinstead collector Paul Thorpe, 48, cancelled all bids. At the time, he said:

"I have decided not to sell it for the moment because I had some interest from a television production company that wants to do a documentary. So at the moment it's still locked away in the safety deposit box."

Mr Thorpe had been hoping to cash in on the item he bought with a friend from another collector two years ago, but said he was likely to hold on to it for another four years - until 2012 and the 100th anniversary of the sinking.

His white-faced watch, damaged beyond repair and without any hands, had been offered on eBay with a certificate of authenticity and documents detailing the life and family of its owner.

Mullin’s crew badge

A crew badge belonging to Mr Mullin, a third-class steward who signed on just four days before departure, was sold at auction for £28,000 almost four years ago.

Mr Mullin was only 20 when he died in the north Atlantic after the Titanic struck an iceberg.

Items found by 1985 American-French expedition

In 1985, a joint American-French expedition discovered the Titanic’s wreck, and in 1994 a company named RMS Titanic Inc was awarded ownership and salvaging rights to the vessel and its contents.

It has since recovered 5,500 historic objects including a 17-ton section of the hull, many or most of which have been included in travelling exhibitions. These have been seen by over 16 million people around the world, everywhere from Manchester in England to Tokyo in Japan, and various US cities.

The memorabilia include all kinds of collectibles from coins and jewellery to personal effects and paper items.

To date, none have appeared for sale.

Coins and currency

The coins and currency hails from various countries, some of the best preserved items including a 20 Franc coin from France (1907), an 1891 Indian Head cent from the US and an 1876 five Para coin from Turkey.

There are also various American banknotes, although even American passengers relied on British pounds when intending to trade with Europeans, as such a variety of US banks made banknotes at the time that British banks could not tell them from forgeries.

Cigarettes

Of personal effects, two would impress smoking fans: a set of cigarettes from Turkey and Egypt were recovered with some of the contents still present, and even a pipe with some tobacco inside.

Children’s marbles

A set of children's marbles, presumably belonging to one of the 113 children known to have been on board (just over half survived) were also among the pieces uncovered by the exhibition.

Franz Pulbaum’s immigration form

A form signed by German passenger Franz Pulbaum declaring his intention to become a US citizen was also found by the exhibition.

His signature and personal information is still legible on the form, which was found in his trunk. Returning from a visit to Europe following his earlier emigration to New York, the 27-year-old died in the sinking.

The longtitudinal sectioned ship plan

In May 2011 a 32ft plan used during the British inquiry into the sinking of the Titanic was sold at an auction by Henry Aldridge and Son in Wiltshire. The plan was drawn in Indian ink and featured red and green chalk markings indicating where ice was thought to have penetrated the bulk heads. It sold for £220,000, almost double its pre-sale estimate.

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