The violin played by the bandmaster of the Titanic to calm passengers as it sank has sold at auction for $1.45m, a world record fee for memorabilia from the doomed liner.
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.
It was sold on Saturday to a British collector after a feverish 10-minute battle between telephone bidders 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 and was sold with its leather luggage case, initialled WHH, in which it was found.
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.
“We’re absolutely overjoyed,” Christine Aldridge, a spokeswoman for the auction house, told the AFP news agency.
“It was sold to a UK collector who was bidding by telephone. The whole sale only took about 10 minutes.”
She said the final price including premiums paid to the auction house was $1,697,426.
Hartley’s 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, 1912, after hitting an iceberg.
Hartley and his seven fellow band members all died after choosing to play on.
Bidding started at just $80 for the violin, with principal auctioneer Alan Aldridge joking that he was setting the price so low so that two of his friends could bid.
But within a few minutes it had passed the previous world record of $355,641 for a Titanic piece as competition between four telephone bidders intensified.
There were gasps from the 200 people at the auction house as the price reached $565,792 and then a tense silence as the battle for the instrument narrowed to two telephone bidders.
It had a reserve price of $323,310 to $484,965.