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Titanic auction gives a chance to own history

Items include a deck chair, nameplate and a life vest.
/ Source: The Associated Press

It’s going to be a titanic auction — in all kinds of ways.

Three collectors of memorabilia connected to the sunken ocean liner Titanic have combined their possessions and will offer more than 250 items at auction next month, an unprecedented sale of material connected to the doomed vessel.

“The word clearly got to us that this was, by far, the most comprehensive, significant, exciting collection ever to be presented on the Titanic,” said Arlan Ettinger, president of Guernsey’s auction house, which is assembling the sale.

The June 10 sale, “Titanic and Other Legendary Liners,” will also include memorabilia from other famous ocean liners including the Normandie, Olympic, Andrea Doria and Lusitania, and will be held at the South Street Seaport Museum. Ettinger said the total sale will offer more than 500 lots.

The auction feature menus from the Titanic’s disastrous maiden voyage in April 1912, a deck chair that was used as a model for the chairs seen in the movie “Titanic,” a life jacket and name plate from one of the lifeboats, and signatures of famous Titanic passengers such as Molly Brown and John Jacob Astor. Memorabilia and art from the movie also will be included.

The Titanic, considered practically unsinkable when it was built, hit an iceberg during its maiden trans-Atlantic crossing from England to New York and sank on April 15, 1912. More than 1,500 passengers and crew members — about two-thirds of those on board — died in less than three hours. The wreckage of the luxury liner was found Sept. 1, 1985, about 380 miles east of Newfoundland.

Gary Robinson, one of the three collectors, said he first had the idea to sell and then approached collectors Richard Romano and Tony Probst. He figured it would maximize the auction’s potential if all of them offered their collections for sale at the same time. Probst has the largest collection, and is putting in the most items.

Robinson has spent more than 10 years amassing the vessel’s material.

“The thing I like most about Titanic collecting is the challenge and the thrill of the hunt,” he said. “Being a ship that sank on her maiden voyage, there’s not reams of stuff for sale.”

Deciding to part with the collection has been bittersweet for him.

“On the one hand, I’m excited that the public will finally get a chance to appreciate these magnificent items that tell an important story,” he said, but “it’s difficult any time that you let go of something you’ve enjoyed collecting.”

Those behind the auction are hopeful for its financial success, citing continuing fascination with the ship in pop culture.

“The allure of it never dies,” Romano said.

“It’s the sexiest, most popular, most interesting vessel that ever was,” Ettinger said.