A silver brandy flask given to a first-class passenger on the Titanic shortly before it sank has sold for £76,000 (around $98,000) at auction.
Helen Churchill Candee owned the flask, which was engraved with her family’s coat of arms and ominous motto, “Faithful but unfortunate.”
When disaster struck, Churchill Candee gave the flask to her friend and fellow first-class passenger Edward Kent, telling him: “You stand a better chance of living than I.” But Kent perished and his belongings — including the flask — were returned to his wife, who subsequently returned the flask to Churchill Candee, who had survived the disaster.
“The flask is badly out of shape,” the widow wrote in a letter to Churchill Candee, a prolific author and pioneer of women’s rights, who had been returning to the United States after her son was injured in an air crash.
The flask remained in Churchill Candee’s family until 2005, when it was sold by UK-based Henry Aldridge & Son, regarded as a leading authority on all things Titanic. Emerging again for sale this year, the flask attracted bids from around the world by telephone and online. The winning bid came from an unidentified private buyer in Britain.
Auctioneer Andrew Aldridge told CNN the firm achieved its expertise in this field “purely by chance,” when his father, Alan, did a valuation roadshow some 20 years ago.
Now managing director of the business started by his grandfather Henry, Aldridge said: “He got into conversation with a client and it turned out her father was the purchasing officer for the White Star Line (which owned Titanic) and had been at the launch of Titanic in May 1911.”
The conversation led to the sale of a menu from a lunch held for the launch, fetching far in excess of expectations. The auction house now holds two specialist Titanic sales every year. Its most valuable sale to date was that of the Wallace Hartley violin in 2013, which is believed to have been played in an attempt to calm passengers as the ship sank. It sold for £1.1 million ($1.4 million) including fees.
This weekend’s Titanic, White Star, Ocean Liner and Travel Memorabilia sale featured 270 items. Among the other highlights was a brass lifeboat plaque inscribed with “SS Titanic” and believed to be from lifeboat 12. Originally bought in the 1960s by a New York antiques dealer from an elderly woman believed to be third-class survivor Margaret Devaney, it sold for £46,000 ($59,000).
More than a century on, there remains huge global interest in artifacts from the maritime disaster.
“Principally, I think it’s the human side of the story,” explained Aldridge. “Every man, woman and child on that ship had a story to tell and those stories are told through the memorabilia.
“The flask is a prime example of this. On the face of it, it’s a fairly unremarkable piece that without this connection might be worth a couple of hundred pounds.”
But its history and provenance make all the difference, Aldridge said. “We are in a position to say exactly where it’s been for the last 107 years and that’s quite remarkable.”
An extremely rare silk postcard posted from the ship fetched £36,000 ($46,500) as part of the auction. It featured Hands Across the Sea, accompanied by the US and Norwegian flags. The card was written onboard the Titanic by third-class passenger Henry Olsen and is postmarked Queenstown 3.45 April 11th.
It reads: “Dear Sina, on the way to New York. A very nice boat to travel with,
you can imagine. Don’t feel anything of the sea, will most likely arrive in New
York next Tuesday. Love to everyone at Home. Love Your Henry”.
Olsen was drowned when the Titanic sank.
Aldridge told CNN that it was “likely the most valuable postcard in the world” and added: “These Hands Across the Sea silk postcards are incredibly rare in their own right, but this one is unique in that it was sent from onboard the ship.”
Among the more unusual items was a biscuit recovered from a lifeboat of RMS Lusitania, which was sunk by a German U-boat off the Irish coast in 1915 and contributed indirectly to the entry of the United States into World War I.
The hard tack biscuit, which fetched £5,500 ($7,100), was accompanied by a handwritten letter from a soldier in the Royal Engineers written shortly after the Lusitania sank, describing not only the aftermath in Queenstown, Ireland, but also the story of how he obtained the biscuit.
“You will find enclosed a biscuit which I got out of one of the Lusitania’s boats at Queenstown. I suppose these biscuits are put in the lifeboats to feed the people aboard her, in case they are a great distance from land or being adrift for many days.”