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Titanic's distress signals sell for $123,500

On the auction block were Titanic documents and printed telegraph messages  
In this story: February 17, 1998
Web posted at: 9:03 p.m. EST (0203 GMT)

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Distress signals sent from the ocean liner Titanic after it hit an iceberg in 1912 -- including one that says, "We have struck an ice berg" -- sold for a stunning $123,500 Tuesday at a crowded Christie's East auction room.

"It was thrilling, it was a thrilling moment," said Christie's expert James Zemaitis, who received the winning bid on the telephone. "It was way more than we could ever have expected and hoped for."

Zemaitis said the buyer of a volume of 34 signals exchanged between the stricken Titanic and other ships from April 14 to April 16, 1912, had requested anonymity and no details would be disclosed.

The liner sank in the North Atlantic on the night of April 14, 1912 after hitting an iceberg. Subsequent signal messages came from nearby ships.

The estimated sale price had been $2,200 to $2,800 for the volume of Marconi signals -- the wireless telegraph messages exchanged between vessels. Among the signals was another that said, "We are putting the passengers off in small boats" and other details of the rescue operations following the disaster.

The telephone buyer's bid of $110,000 clinched the sale and Christie's premium raised the final sale price to $123,500.

Movie's success heightens interest

Buoyed by the box-office success of the movie "Titanic," the sale was driven even higher by what Zemaitis called "very, very serious collectors on both sides of the Atlantic who have waited for years to have a stab at lots like these again, combined with perhaps some of the recent publicity, which brought in a lot of new collectors."

The Titanic sent this message to its sister ship the Olympic, informing its crew it had struck an iceberg  

The Titanic was on its maiden voyage and was more than halfway from Southampton, England, to New York when it struck an iceberg and sank within three hours, killing 1,523 of the 2,228 passengers and crew aboard.

The tragedy became a symbol of modern arrogance -- the ship had been declared "unsinkable" -- and some of the richest and most powerful people of the day went down with it.

Buyers at the auction paid a total of $180,310 for four separate lots of Titanic historical documents as part of Christie's second annual sale of maritime objects.

Besides the principal volume of 34 signals, other Titanic-related lots sold Tuesday included a group of so-called "ice messages" detailing the ice conditions on the North Atlantic which went for $46,000.

A single Marconi signal from the commander of the Titanic to the commander of its sister ship Olympic sold for $8,050. It was sent April 3, 1912 during its passage from Belfast to Southampton before its transatlantic journey.

Holding a piece of history


The buyer was New York attorney Craig Sopin, who came to the auction house specifically to buy that item.

"I'm fascinated by the Titanic," he said. "I've been collecting for about 10 years and I think holding a piece of history like this provides a connection to the Titanic and to an era and to a time that you just can't experience from reading a history book."

A letter sent by one crew member to his steward on the Olympic, weeks before the disaster, sold for $2,760. The crew member was lost in the Titanic disaster. The envelope is color-embossed with the White Star Line house flag.

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.


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