Titanic artifacts for sale, from trinkets to slab of hull
A century after the Titanic hit an iceberg and sank to the floor of the Atlantic, more than 5,000 artifacts plucked from the wreckage will be sold at auction, but bidders beware: The collection has been appraised at $189 million and must be sold in one chunk.
That means if you have your eye on only the delicate diamond bracelet, or the 17-ton slab of hull from the doomed passenger ship, you're out of luck, auctioneer Arlan Ettinger of Guernsey's Auction House in Manhattan said Thursday as he announced plans for the sale. It will be held April 11 to coincide with the Titanic's maiden voyage from Southampton, England, to New York City.
As myriad films, books, pop songs and deep-sea expeditions have told us, the supposedly unsinkable liner was no match for a giant iceberg, and 1,517 of the 2,223 people on board died when the Titanic sank to the bottom of the sea on April 15, 1912, hours after hitting the frozen mass. Its wreckage lay in some 12,000 feet of water, undisturbed, until its discovery in 1985.
The wreck remains in place, but expeditions over the years have retrieved and preserved items found in a 13-mile debris field surrounding it, and they were on display Thursday. Earrings, spectacles, a perfectly preserved blue-and-white dish, and a man's vest with buttons still attached.
"It's one of the most significant and extraordinary collections ... on the face of the Earth," said Ettinger, who should know. His auction house has sold collections from Elvis Presley, the Beatles, and Princess Diana, and it even was given the task of finding a buyer for a collection of medieval torture equipment in 2009.
What makes this sale more challenging is that a court will have to approve the winning bidder, to ensure the new owners have the ability and commitment to preserving the collection and to keeping at least a portion of it on public display at any given time. "It's like getting a puppy," said Ettinger, as he explained the responsibilities that will come with the trove.
Those responsibilities for the past 18 years have been borne by Premier Exhibitions Inc., the current steward of the Titanic and its treasures. Brian Wainger of Premier Exhibitions said that with the 100th anniversary approaching, the time was right to find new owners for the collection. Wainger also made clear that Premier Exhibitions, a publicly held company, was finding it increasingly challenging to run what had become a "traveling museum" of Titanic artifacts while also trying to turn profits for shareholders.
"The financial considerations are absolutely a part of this," said Wainger when asked why it was hopeful that a new steward could be found.
Ettinger said he already has received calls from some "serious-sounding parties."
-- Tina Susman in New York
Photo: A silver certificate from the Titanic is on display during a news conference by Guernsey's Auction House. Credit: Don Emmert / AFP/Getty Images