Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Titanic Tuesdays: Artifact auction

I’ve been somewhat slack on my Titanic Tuesdays posts, and I apologize for that. The holidays were crazy busy, both personally and at work, so I fell behind on most writing-related things. I’m hoping to get back in the swing soon. Since I haven’t yet had time to come up with a fully-researched topic this week, I’m going to talk quickly about a news item that came to my attention last week: Thousands of artifacts salvaged from the wreck are going up for auction.

This worries me. The artifacts are fascinating, and seeing them in person is truly awe-inspiring. I’ve seen many of these myself at exhibitions, so I’m praying that whoever buys them will continue to exhibit them to the public in a responsible and respectful manner. It looks like the auction winner will have to be vetted in some way to gain approval to purchase the lot, so I’m cautiously optimistic. It would be awful if they let some rich tycoon buy them and then hoard them away in a personal collection somewhere.

In regards to the artifacts themselves, I’ve always had mixed feelings. On the one hand, there’s something about seeing these items in person that really brings the story of the Titanic to life. It sparks the imagination, makes the people who lost their lives more real. On the other hand, it’s always bothered me that these expeditions are going down, landing on the wreck (which has seriously damaged the decks) and taking things from the ship to haul back out of the sea and put on display. How is that any different than stealing treasures from one of the pyramids? It isn’t, not really, except most pyramids only have one body inside. The Titanic is the grave of over 1500 people.

I’m less bothered by artifacts retrieved from the debris field, though I’m not sure why. Obviously, bodies fell there as well, as evidenced by the photos of leather boots (such as the one on the cover of DESTINED). Maybe it’s because those expeditions aren’t doing any harm to the ship itself? I don’t know. I guess I’m a little bit of a hypocrite all the way around, as I’ve attended many of the artifact exhibitions over the years and done my fair share of “ooh”ing and “ahhh”ing over everything. I may not completely approve of their means, but once the items are on dry land, I can’t resist looking at them. I’m just too fascinated by the ship to look away.

This one in particular, which is part of the lot going up for auction (along with the Big Piece, I believe), is something that has always stuck with me more than any other piece. I’m not really sure why. Maybe it’s because there’s a name on it? There’s a mystery surrounding it, as no one has been able to deduce for certain who it belonged to. Some believe it was Amy Jacobsohn, a 2nd Class passenger, while others believe it was Amy Stanley’s, despite her sailing in Third Class. Some say the bracelet was found in a leather bag that contained items from the 2nd Class Purser’s safe, while others say it was found with other steerage items in the debris field. If you read through some of the message board threads about the bracelet (such as the one on the Encyclopedia Titanica boards here), it’s hard to say who’s right. One person insists they saw an account from Amy Stanley herself that it was hers, yet later her own great granddaughter posts to say this isn’t true. For all we know, it belonged to none of them, and was being brought back to America as a gift for a loved one back home. If I had to speculate, I’d say Amy Jacobsohn makes the most sense. I just can’t imagine a Third Class passenger being able to afford a diamond bracelet.

Pretty, isn’t it? I’m oddly attached to this bracelet, so I hope whoever wins the auction has just as much respect for the items as the rest of us Titanic buffs do. It would be a crime if they faded into obscurity in a dusty storage shed somewhere.

If you’d like to see photos of other pieces in the auction, The Guardian has a slideshow up here.


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