Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Don’t hold your breath for relics from the Titanic anytime soon

March 25, 2009
Posted by Noah

You can’t be in this business without having wondered – at least once during the last 24 years since it was located – whether the 5,000+ relics actually salvaged from the sunken remains of The Titanic would ever actually come to the auction block and what they would be worth. The answer to the former is, as of today, probably never, and the answer to the latter is: who knows?

The AP is reporting widely today that a U.S. Maritime District Judge in Virginia, one Rebecca Beach Smith, is set to rule within weeks that the wreck is “an international treasure” and that “the salvaged items must remain together and accessible to the public… ensuring the 5,900 pieces of china, ship fittings and personal belongings won't end up in a collector's hands or in a London auction house, where some Titanic artifacts have landed.”

The disputed sale of just a few of these things brought great scrutiny and some impressive prices when they were auctioned off, and I’m sure the imminent ruling doesn’t do a whole lot for the folks at RMS Titanic, Inc., who salvaged the relics and were seeking limited ownership of the artifacts from the world’s most famous shipwreck. It is a legal to-do that began in 1985 when the first images of the ship were broadcast to surface.

I won’t lie and tell you that I’m 100% happy about this, because I would have hoped that Heritage’s crack team of Consignment Directors would have been all over this and would have brought the goods, and the glory, home to HA HQ in Dallas. On the other hand, this is indeed good news for the tens of millions of people who have already stood in line to see the artifacts in exhibitions, and for the millions more who will. It may not be a win for Heritage, necessarily, but it is a win for the world at-large. Let’s all give a hearty cheer! Hooray Humanity!

As I enjoy doing with any story like this, I went to Heritage Auction Archives and did a search for “Titanic.” The results were somewhat varied. I expected the myriad movie posters from the late-1990s James Cameron pic, and from various other movies about the sinking, but there are also a good selection of autographs from survivors. The coolest lot, though a prop from the movie, is a lifejacket, which was used during filming. Do you think that Leo might have actually touched it? Maybe Kate spilled her Diet Coke on it? Perhaps James Cameron berated the extra wearing it?

The autographs, especially for one Milvina Dean – the youngest survivor from the ship, btw – seem to have turned into a cottage industry. I suppose, though, I would have done the same thing had I survived the most famous wreck in history…

I was no great fan of the Leo and Kate movie. Despite good FX for the time, the script was horrendous and a lot of the acting wooden. My friends and I actually referred to the movie as The Craptanic. What do you want? I was very cynical, if not clever. I did, though, develop a new appreciation for the movie a year or two after its release when I traveled through India for several months with a good friend. Everywhere we went, it seemed, the movie was playing to massive sold out audiences – especially in Bangalore, Mumbai and Chennai (formerly known as Madras) – and I must have seen at least 1,000 Titanic t-shirts up and down the sub-continent and into Nepal. That was added to the hundreds of greetings we received as we walked the streets of cities or rode trains where people would stop us, shake our hands and say: “Namaste! Leo DiCaprio Titanic! Best film! Best film!”

Check out the HA Titanic archive above, or right here.