Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Titanic auction to mark 100th anniversary

Relics valued at $180 million to be sold as single collection

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THERE'S a ghostly deck chair and a heart-wrenching locket, a poignant last letter to a young man's parents, a White Star Line candy dish and a massive hunk of the doomed vessel's hull -- anything and everything with a genuine link to the world's most famous shipwreck catastrophe seems to be up for grabs in time for the 100th anniversary of the RMS Titanic's first and last voyage.

But would-be buyers harbouring hopes of owning a piece of Titanic history might find their plans going the same way as the great luxury liner itself -- lost in a sea of competitive bidders. And given the feverish interest in Titanic-themed auctions ahead of Saturday's centenary of the April 1912 tragedy, it may be the bank accounts of winning bidders that are ultimately headed for a shocking plunge.

The biggest sale ever of Titanic relics is set to take place Wednesday in Richmond, Va., where more than 5,000 objects retrieved from the Atlantic Ocean seabed since the wreck's discovery in 1985 are to be auctioned by Guernsey's as a single collection -- as ordered by a U.S. court -- to preserve its historical integrity.

"Titanic is slowly being consumed by iron-eating microbes on the sea floor and, at some point in the not-too-distant future, it will be only a memory," Premier Exhibitions and RMS Titanic Inc.'s Mark Sellers, chairman of the firms that controversially plucked objects from the wreck site and later toured them at commercial exhibits, said in announcing the sale earlier this year.

"Many of the artifacts we've brought up from the site would have disintegrated and been lost forever had this company not risked life and limb, and spent millions of dollars and countless hours to raise and rehabilitate them using cutting-edge conservation techniques," Sellers said. "After all of these efforts, we have determined that the time has come for us to transfer ownership of this collection to a steward who is able to continue our efforts and will preserve and honour her legacy."

The estimated $180-million value of those items -- which include an iconic bronze cherub from the ship's grand staircase, a man's bowler hat and a 17-tonne, four-porthole section of the ship itself that was hauled up from the deep in 1998 -- will disqualify average history buffs from competing with museums, major corporations and billionaire collectors for the ultimate Titanic treasure.

But beginning next week, on the 100th anniversary of a Canadian ship's departure from Halifax to retrieve bodies and debris after the Titanic's sinking, another 180 objects linked to the tragedy will be sold by New Hampshire-based RR Auction.

Many of those items were recovered by the crew of the Mackay-Bennett, the Nova Scotia cable-repair vessel that was dispatched to the wreck site on April 17, 1912, two days after the Titanic sank about 600 kilometres off the coast of Newfoundland.

-- Postmedia News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 10, 2012 A2

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