Pocket watch and violin case of ill-fated Titanic players to go on auction

Titanic leaves Southampton, England on her maiden voyage.
Titanic leaves Southampton, England on her maiden voyage. Copyright AP Photo
Copyright AP Photo
By Jonny Walfisz
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An upcoming auction will put items from the ill-fated single voyage of the RMS Titanic under the hammer.


We all know the story. On 15 April 1912, the passenger ship RMS Titanic, operated by White Star Line, hit an iceberg on its maiden voyage from England to New York and sunk, killing around 1,500 of those on board.

The story of the Titanic has been memorialised throughout popular culture, most notably via the 1997 James Cameron film Titanic starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. Now, fans of the naval disaster can get their own piece of the tragic story for themselves.

Henry Aldridge & Sons Ltd is holding an auction of memorabilia from the Titanic on 27 April. The lots on sale are expected to go for potentially huge sums as some of the items were retrieved from the bodies of those who perished in the disaster.

Last year, a menu from the ship’s restaurant sold for £83,000 (€97,000) while a pocket watch from a drowned Russian passenger sold for £97,000 (€113,000). And this year, the infamous floating door from the film sold for staggering €663,000 at Hollywood movie auction.

Included in the lots for the upcoming auction this week is the leather case for one of the violins that played as the ship sank. The violin players desperately attempting to keep passengers calm through their performance has been immortalised in the 1997 film with the line “Gentlemen, it’s been a privilege playing with you tonight.”

While Wallace Hartley, the violinist who inspired the famous scene, died in the shipwreck, his violin and its case survived. The instrument itself is considered the most valuable item related to the Titanic and is currently on display at the Titanic Belfast Museum.

Wallace Hartley's violin case
Wallace Hartley's violin caseHenry Aldridge & Sons Ltd

You may not be able to own the violin, but you could own its case. Henry Aldridge & Sons estimates it will sell for as much as £120,000 (€140,000) when it’s put up for auction.

“Wallace Hartley's violin is the most iconic piece of Titanic memorabilia ever sold at auction,” said auctioneer Andrew Aldridge. “However, it would not have survived if it were not for this valise case made of English coach hide. The long straps would have been used by Wallace to strap the bag to himself as the Titanic was sinking. It served to protect the instrument against the salt seawater.”

The case isn’t even the item that the auction house is expecting to fetch the most though. That honour goes to a pocket watch that belonged to John Jacob Astor IV, an American business magnate, real estate developer, investor, writer, lieutenant colonel in the Spanish–American War who perished during the maritime disaster.

John Jacob Astor's watch
John Jacob Astor's watchHenry Aldridge & Sons Ltd

At the time of the sinking, the 47-year-old Astor was one of the richest people on Earth and owned properties including the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. He took the journey on the Titanic with his 18-year-old newlywed wife Madeleine Astor and the socialite Molly Brown.

As his wife and Brown were ferried onto lifeboats, Astor was told he had to wait until all women and children were safe before joining. He stepped aside and smoked a cigarette as they were taken to safety. His golden pocket watch is expected to sell for up to £150,000 (€175,000).

Other lots at the auction include crockery from the ship, a chess board, letters from passengers, and newspaper clippings.

At the cheaper end of the lots, you can also bid on a collection of DVDs and books related to the infamous sinking. That will only set you back around £30 (€35).

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