Remember the scene in the movie Titanic when the band played Nearer My God to Thee as the “unsinkable” ship sank? The actual violin that was played when the Titanic sank after hitting an iceberg was sold on Saturday for over $1.6 million, which set a new world record for the price of an artifact from the Titanic.
That’s a high price for a violin, especially one that is now unplayable, as it’s been corroded by the sea and has only two strings on it. Yet, the violin has such a history to it, associated as it is with one of the most famous ships ever made and it’s tragic fate, that the price quickly escalated in a bidding war.
The violin belonged to Wallace Hartley, who was the bandmaster. He was one of the 1,500+ people aboard who perished when the Titanic sunk.
Probably one factor that led to the violin being auctioned for such an astronomical price is that the scenes of the band playing while the ship sank and people drowned is one of the most memorable scenes in James Cameron’s movie, Titanic.
The auction took place in the town of Devizes, Wiltshire, in England. Henry Aldridge and Son hosted it.
There are other items that have been salvaged from the Titanic that might fetch that high of a price, or an even higher price; but, those items are in exhibitions that travel around America and Europe.
The violin, which was made in Germany, has Hartley’s name on it and it was found in a case strapped to his body. The engraving on the violin mentions that it was an engagement gift from his wife, Maria. It was recovered, along with Hartley’s body, over a week after the Titanic sank.
Andrew Aldridge, the auctioneer, mentioned before the auction took place that Hartley and the rest of the band “were very brave people…standing by their posts to the bitter end.”
The violin was thought to have been lost, but it was rediscovered in 2006, from an attic in the town of Yorkshire. Since then, over a period of seven years, there have been many tests done to confirm that it is, indeed, authentic, and was the one which Hartley played.
So far, the buyer is unknown, wishing to remain anonymous, but, it is known that he is from England.
The violin was sold complete with the original leather case it was discovered in, which has the initials W.H.H. upon it. Previous to it’s sale, the violin was on exhibition in Branson, Missouri, at the Titanic museum, and also at Titanic Pigeon Forge, in Tennessee.
These two museums are the largest ones in the world which are devoted to displaying artifacts from the Titanic. Over 315,00 have seen the violin at the two museums.
Following being on exhibit in the United States, the violin was a major attraction at the Titanic Belfast museum in Ireland.
The approximately 200 people who crowded into the auction sale room in the hopes of purchasing the violin were disappointed when the phone bidder bought it by outbidding them all.
Other artifacts from or about the Titanic sold at the auction included crockery, newspapers, and photographs. There was even a violin prop from the 1997 movie Titanic that was sold.
The price went up quickly, and there were several gasps from the people gathered to both witness and bid at the auction for the Titanic memorabilia. Altogether, it took just 10 minutes to sell the violin.
The sale of the violin that Mr. Hartley played as the Titanic sank went for a new record price. He and the other seven band members perished when the ship sank, but their insistence upon continuing to play Nearer My God to Thee in an effort to calm down the passengers of the doomed ship is considered by many to have been a heroic act.
Written by: Douglas Cobb