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Last Titanic survivor selling mementos to pay bills

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  • 97-year-old was 9 weeks old when Titanic sank in 1912
  • Saturday's auction is expected to raise up to $50,000 for her
  • Letters from estate of another survivor will also be on the block
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- The last survivor of the Titanic, 97-year-old Millvina Dean, is auctioning off her remaining mementos of the doomed ship to pay nursing home bills.

Millvina Dean, 97, is trying to raise money so she can stay in the nursing home she prefers.

Millvina Dean, 97, is trying to raise money so she can stay in the nursing home she prefers.

The auction, which is expected to raise up to $50,000 for her, is set to take place Saturday near her home in England.

It is the second auction in less than a year for Dean, who was a 9-week-old when the ship sank on its maiden voyage in 1912.

Among the items going under the hammer at Henry Aldridge & Son is a canvas bag that might have been used to lift the infant Dean from a lifeboat to a rescue ship, said Alan Aldridge of the auction house.

"Historical documents say she was lifted from the lifeboat onto Carpathia, the rescue ship, in a mail sack," Aldridge said. After her rescue, Dean, her mother and her brother returned to England with a canvas sack, among other possessions.

"There is speculation that this would have been the bag. It's a leather and canvas bag. You would easily get a child or infant in it," Aldridge said, though he added that research by the Smithsonian, the British Postal Museum and the Liverpool Maritime Museum showed no proof that Dean had been taken off the lifeboat in that particular bag.

Given that the auctioneer cannot prove Dean was rescued in the bag, "we expect it to fetch £3,000 ($4,480). If it was the bag she was rescued in, it would be £30,000 to £40,000, ($44,800 to $60,000), but we can't prove it. It depends on what people are prepared to believe."

Aldridge said he was eager to raise as much for Dean as possible.

"She's in a residential nursing home. She's 97 years of age. She's paying £3,000 a month in nursing home fees," he said -- the amount he hopes her canvas bag will sell for.

"As she said, £3,000 a month is £36,000 a year, which is a lot of money," he said. "When she runs out of money, the state will pay fees for her, but while she can pay her fees, she decides where she gets her care. When the state pays, they decide."

Dean's previous sale, in October, raised just over £30,000, Aldridge said.

"It's made a lot of people aware of her plight; a lot of people have sent her funds," he said.

Dean never married and had no children.

"There are cousins, but there is no one directly to support her," Aldridge said. "The property she lived in [before she moved to the nursing home] was not hers. She's just an ordinary little old lady.

"If she's lucky, she'll get another four or five years; she's quite a fit lady," he said.

Dean was not available to speak to CNN herself because of a throat infection, Aldridge said.

The auction will include 17 items from her collection, most of them memorabilia related to the Titanic and signed by her but not from the ship itself.

The auction, in Devizes, southwest England, will also include a collection of letters from the estate of Titanic survivor Barbara Dainton-West, estimated to fetch £40,000 to £60,000 ($60,000 to $90,000). The letters include descriptions of her family's trip to board the Titanic and the immediate aftermath of the sinking.

Dainton-West, who was 10 months old when the ship went down, died in October 2007, the auctioneer said.

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