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Violin believed to play Titanic's swan song as the liner sank to go on auction in Britain

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LONDON - It's a poignant scene familiar to anyone who has watched "Titanic" — as the doomed ship slides into the icy waters, musicians perform one last time for the passengers, playing with stoic resolve until the final hour.

None of the musicians survived in the 1912 disaster in the North Atlantic, but a violin believed to be the one played by bandmaster Wallace Hartley will now go on auction.

"It is just a remarkable piece of history," said Andrew Aldridge, of auctioneer Henry Aldridge and Son. "I have been an auctioneer for 20 years, but I have never seen an item that brings out this degree of emotion in people before."

The violin, with Hartley's name on it, is believed to have been found at sea with the musician's body more than a week after the Titanic sank.

The auction house, which specializes in Titanic memorabilia, expects the violin to fetch more than 200,000 pounds (US$323,300) when it goes on sale in southern England's Wiltshire on Saturday.

Hartley and his seven fellow band members were among the 1,517 people aboard the Titanic who died after it hit an iceberg. According to some accounts, the band played the hymn "Nearer, My God, To Thee" to keep spirits up as the passengers boarded lifeboats in the early hours of April 15, 1912.

The musicians have been hailed as heroes for sacrificing their chances of escape.

"Mr. Hartley and the band were very brave people ... standing by their posts to the bitter end," Aldridge said.

The auction house said the violin has been subject to numerous tests to check its authenticity since it was discovered in 2006. It said earlier this year that the violin was Hartley's "beyond reasonable doubt."

The violin, of German make, was a gift from Hartley's fiancee Maria Robinson, and was engraved with the words "For Wallace on the occasion of our engagement from Maria." It can no longer be played, Aldridge said.

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Sylvia Hui can be reached at http://Twitter.com/sylviahui

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