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Back from the depths... The RMS Titanic Collection

Collectibles related to the disaster are greatly coveted, and many are now part of a travelling exhibition

The RMS Titanic was the largest passenger ship in the world when it set out on its maiden voyage in April 1912. With advanced measures built into the vessel to keep it afloat in the teeth of any eventuality, its sinking caused astonishment and horror round the world.

The event has passed into public consciousness, and whilst it is no longer in living memory the story of the Titanic holds a continuing fascination for many - not hindered by the multiple Oscar-winning Leonardo DiCaprio/Kate Winslet film.

This fascination can be seen in the tremendous influence the Titanic has on sales of collectibles, with many collectors focussing primarily or exclusively on memorabilia associated with the disaster.

We told you the story of Millvina Dean, the youngest and last survivor of the Titanic who died last year. A baby when she was on the ship, she never had any recollection of the event, (though it claimed her father's life) but Titanic followers sought her out anyway, and her autograph was and is greatly prized.

It is almost guaranteed to increase in value now that she and all the other survivors have passed on.

Items more directly associated with the Titanic are also popular.

For example, 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.

Titanic Third Class Menu
A Third Class Menu from the Titanic

There was even a menu of the meals for third class passengers on board. It survived in the handbag of Sarah Roth, a Third Class Passenger, who was rescued by the Carpathia in lifeboat C. This brought $44,650.

This week has seen the Carpathia referenced again, with news that one of the medals given to a crewman on the first ship to assist the stricken Titanic is to go under the hammer.

However, perhaps the most exciting Titanic collectibles are those which actually sank to the bottom with the ship. Some have returned from the watery grave.

In 1985, a joint American-French expedition finally discovered the 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, not to mention a swathe of US cities.

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

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.

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.

Two particularly poignant items in the collection are a set of children's marbles, presumably belonging to one of the 113 children known to have been on board (just over half survived) and a form signed by German passenger Franz Pulbaum declaring his intention to become a US citizen.

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.

Many of these items would be extremely valuable if they came to auction now. Anyone doubting the demand for Titanic memorabilia should consider the case of the key to the Titanic's binocular cupboard.

The binoculars might have made all the difference to the crew in letting them see the iceberg coming in time. Unfortunately a crewman, transferred off the ship before the doomed voyage, had accidentally retained it in his uniform pocket. It sold for £90,000 in 2008.


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Image: Bonhams

Last updated: 15 September 2010