Titanic artifacts are up for bid after Ga. owner files Chapter 11

The Titanic gets ready to leave Southampton on April 10, 1912. Photo credit: Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition.
The Titanic gets ready to leave Southampton on April 10, 1912. Photo credit: Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition.

A bronze cherub — missing its left foot — that adorned the grand staircase of the RMS Titanic.

An electric chandelier once elegantly suspended in the ceiling above the men-only first-class smoking room.

A damaged brown bowler hat with a grosgrain ribbon and leather Gladstone bag owned by doomed passengers of the luxury passenger liner that sank on April 15, 1912 after striking an iceberg.

Today, they are among roughly 5,500 items in an extensive collection of Titanic artifacts that is up for bid after the Georgia company that owns the items filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in Florida last summer.

Over the years, the Georgia company recovered these items and thousands of others from the ship's resting place on the ocean floor.

The company has not sold any artifacts previously, court records say. The Titanic items that have come to market were from survivors.

The dollar value of the artifact collection, along with the intellectual property rights to video footage, imagery, research and future salvage rights, has been estimated at $214 million. The items are secured in a climate-controlled vault at an undisclosed location.

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The overall collection is significant, said Phil Gowan, a Titanic historian. “The value of it has just gone through the roof. I’m amazed at what has happened since the (James) Cameron movie came out. When the wreck was discovered on Sept. 1, 1985, there was a resurgence of interest and it continues to grow.”

Discussions with potential bidders have already begun, said Dave Vermillion, a spokesman for Peachtree Corners-based RMS Titanic, a subsidiary of Premier Exhibitions, which is headquartered in Georgia.Interested bidders have until July 21 to submit a letter of intent. The winning bid will be selected on Nov. 20.

“The response has been considerable,” he said. ” So many people are captivated by this significant historic event. People globally have an emotional attachment.”

So far more than 100 bidders have expressed an interest, although he declined to identify them.

An article in the Daily Mailhowever, reported that Cameron, who directed the Oscar-winning 1997 film, "Titanic", has launched a 'rescue mission' to bring the artifacts to Belfast, where the ship, then among the largest in the world and once considered "unsinkable," was built.

Cameron, who could not be reached for comment, has reportedly joined with Robert Ballard, who discovered the wreck, along with the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich and the Royal Geographical Society.

News reports suggests relatives of some of the passengers and archaeologists are concerned because the sale includes future salvage rights, stoking fears the ship could be raised from ocean floor and parceled out among others.

Indeed the story of the “unsinkable” Titanic has captivated the world. Nearly 1,500 of the 2,208 or so passengers and crew died in the disaster.

There are numerous Titanic museums and displays around the world, including one in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. In 2012, celebrated Croatian chefs created the last menu from the Titanic. There are Titanic-themed restaurants in several cities.

Among those interested in the immense collection of artifacts is the Royal Museums Greenwich.

“The National Maritime Museum (part of Royal Museums Greenwich) has noted the bankruptcy of the company that currently owns the collection of objects recovered from the RMS Titanic wreck site,” Kevin Fewster , director of the Royal Museums Greenwich, said in an emailed statement. “If there were to be an opportunity in which this collection as a whole could be brought back to Britain and into public ownership, the National Maritime Museum, in association with Titanic Belfast, would be pleased to explore options to ensure its permanent care, preservation, research and exhibition for the public benefit.”

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Titanic Belfast and the Titanic Foundation also issued a statement that the group is “committed to preserving Belfast’s maritime heritage and strengthening the city’s position as the home of RMS Titanic. In conjunction with other parties, including Dr. Robert Ballard, James Cameron and National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, initial discussions have taken place with a view to bring home and safeguard this collection of Titanic artifacts. This would further strengthen the city’s authentic global links to the Titanic story and enhance our offering as a world-class tourist attraction.”

Karen Kamuda, president of the Titanic Historical Society in Indian Orchard, Mass., said the artifacts includes items in storage that have never been cleaned up. It’s vast. “It’s very significant because there are more artifacts there than anywhere else.” Many of them are one of a kind, she said. “It was an iconic vessel in history and has become a worldwide phenomenon.”

Her late husband, Edward, was a founder of the society, which was established in 1963 and has its own collection of artifacts.

“We have a collection of artifacts that were donated to us,” she said. “We were collecting in the 1960s and 1970s when nobody cared about it.”

Her husband was fascinated by the story of the Titanic as a youngster. “We were always against the salvage,” she said. “We wrote many editorials about them bringing up items from the ship because we consider it a grave site.”

Gowan said he would like to see a museum land the collection or somewhere “where it can all be kept together and put on display. I would hate to see all of those things separated and disappear from public sight. That would not serve any purpose.”

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