Sun, Jan 08, 2012 - Page 11 News List

New York abuzz over thousands of ‘Titanic’ relics

By Brigitte Dusseau  /  AFP, NEW YORK

Five thousand items recovered from the Atlantic grave of the Titanic, from a 17-tonne piece of the hull to china used to serve first-class passengers, will go on auction in New York a century after the liner sank.

The unprecedented collection will be sold as a single lot by Guernsey’s Auctioneers on April 11, exactly 100 years after Titanic’s maiden voyage in the city where the doomed ship had been destined when it was holed by an iceberg off Newfoundland.

Guernsey’s described the auction as “historic,” saying it was “the first and only sale of objects that have been recovered from the wreck site of Titanic 2.5 miles [4km] below the ocean’s surface.”

The auctioneers estimate the lot will sell for US$189 million.

The items, a handful of which went on display on Thursday, are a sometimes ghostly reminder of the 1,500 people who perished when the supposedly unsinkable White Star liner, sailing out of Southampton, England, went down.

Arlen Ettinger, president of Guernsey’s, said the collection had to remain as a single lot to “perpetuate the memory of this great ship” and “so that future generations will always have the opportunity to see it.”

The auction house said the sale “is subject to certain covenants and conditions to ensure the collection will be properly maintained and available for public display.”

Included are everything from shaving kits to children’s toys, tobacco pipes and the brass buttons on the smart navy blue uniforms worn by Captain Edward Smith and his officers.

Hints of the glamorous life on board abound, such as crystal decanters from the first-class cabins, a battered chandelier from the A la Carte Restaurant, silver platters and blue-and-gold porcelain dishes.

Remnants of the great ship’s working parts will also be on the auction block. The compass monitored by watch officers in the wheelhouse is for sale, along with a running light, a trio of bronze whistles from a funnel and a bell.

Among the most poignant objects is a well-preserved megaphone. The auctioneers say it may have been the one used by the captain as he directed the evacuation into lifeboats and gave his final command: “Abandon ship.”

Alex Klingelhofer, the vice president of Titanic Collections and a conservator, said the Titanic immediately gripped the world’s imagination as a “floating city” and a ship “of dreams and hopes.” Carrying 2,200 people, it was at the time the largest moving object built.

When the ship sank, “what was a single tragic event has become one of the most significant events of the 20th century,” she said. “It still resonates with people today.”

The items were recovered in a series of expeditions since 1987 by a company called RMS Titanic, a subsidiary of Premier Exhibitions, which creates museum and other exhibits.

Paul-Henry Nargeolet, head of underwater research for the company, recalled the discovery in 1987.

When the team in a special submarine saw the wreckage, “we could not speak for 10 minutes.”

They saw “the most beautiful part of the ship ... it was easy to imagine people living on it.”

Premier Exhibitions said it “intends to direct a portion of the proceeds generated by the sale to the Titanic Preservation Trust, an endowment fund created by the company for future conservation and maintenance of the artifacts removed from the wreck site.”

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