The violin played by the bandmaster of the Titanic as it sank is set to fetch a world record fee for memorabilia when it goes on sale on Saturday.
The instrument belonging to Wallace Hartley was found strapped to his body after he drowned with his seven bandmates and some 1 500 others on board the supposedly unsinkable ship in 1912.
The violin has a reserve price of £200 000 to £300 000, but is expected to fetch as much as £400 000 when it goes on sale at Titanic specialist auctioneers Henry Aldridge and Son in Devizes, southwest England.
The instrument carries an inscription from the 33-year-old's fiancee Maria Robinson to mark their engagement. It is on sale with its leather luggage case initialed W.H.H.
For decades the violin was believed lost, but it was found in the attic of a house in northwest England in 2006, prompting a debate about its authenticity, which experts only recently resolved. Andrew Aldridge, a valuer with the auctioneer, said worldwide interest in the instrument meant it was likely to break the world record fee for a single piece of memorabilia from the Titanic.
"It symbolises love, with a young man strapping it to his body because it was an engagement present from his fiancee," he said. "It also epitomises bravery. He knew there would be no lifeboats. It symbolises everything that's good about people, not just Wallace Hartley and his band, but all the men, women and children who lost their lives."
The Titanic was built in Belfast and set sail from Southampton, southern England, for New York on April 10 1912. The band played the hymn "Nearer, My God, To Thee" to try to calm passengers while they climbed into lifeboats as the Titanic sank beneath the icy waves in the North Atlantic on April 15 after hitting an iceberg.
Hartley and his seven fellow band members all died after choosing to play on. He was given the maple, spruce and ebony violin by his fiancee in 1910. She had a silver plaque fixed to the instrument engraved with the words: "For Wallace, on the occasion of our engagement. From Maria."
It is now thought that the instrument was inside a leather bag that was found strapped to his body 10 days after the sinking, and was then passed to Robinson. He never married and after her death in 1939, her sister donated the violin to her local Salvation Army band, where it passed to a music teacher and then the unnamed owner in whose house it was discovered in Lancashire, northwest England.
After seven years of testing including MRI scans, researchers said in March this year that the instrument was genuine. – AFP