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Titanic Cache Heads to Auction on 100th Anniversary of Voyage

Titanic Auction
A pocket watch recovered in a suitcase of William Henry Allen, a third-class passenger of the Titanic. The leather exterior of suitcases served to protect many items from deterioriation, including letters and diaries. Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

When explorer Paul-Henri Nargeolet first dove to the ocean floor surrounding the wreck of the RMS Titanic, he found a debris field that “looked like a flea market,” he said.

“In one spot there were a lot of things from the kitchen - - pots, pans, dishes. Over there were cases of wine and champagne,” Nargeolet said in an interview today. “The suitcases, we found almost everywhere.”

Now the objects that Nargeolet recovered -- more than 5,000 of them -- are going on sale in a manner bearing little resemblance to a flea market. Guernsey’s auction house will offer the objects in one lot on April 11, the centennial of the start of luxury liner’s fateful first -- and last -- voyage. The sale will take place at the Intrepid Air & Space Museum in Manhattan.

An appraisal in 2007 valued the objects and the intellectual property associated with them at $189 million.

The seller is Premier Exhibitions Inc., known for traveling shows such as “Bodies.” Premier owns RMS Titanic Inc., which recovered the objects.

“We’re looking for a steward,” said Brian Wainger, spokesman for Premier.

“Many, many tens of millions have been put into the recovery and conservation of objects, and we’ve done everything at museum-quality standards,” he continued. “But we are a public company and we recognize this is probably better situated in private hands. We want a third party with the same commitment we have, and better resources.”

No Stealing

The Atlanta-based company wants to pass along the artifacts as well as its responsibilities at the wreckage site. The company serves as chief monitor of the site, guarding against pillagers. About 50,000 objects still remain on the debris field.

“If we got 10 good plates of a certain kind, then we left the others,” Nargeolet said.

The collection includes red-and-white plates used by third class passengers, blue-and-white plates used by those in second class, and blue-and-gold plates used by those in first class.

A philanthropist, a museum or a private company are all potential buyers, said the president of Guernsey’s, Arlan Ettinger, who noted that the final bidder must be approved by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, under Judge Rebecca Beach Smith.

Nargeolet said he would be happy to take the winning bidder on a dive to the wreckage site.

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