The largest collection of artefacts salvaged from the Titanic is to be put up for auction next year – the 100th anniversary of the world’s most famous shipwreck.
More than 5,500 items, including fine china, ship fittings and portions of hull that were recovered from the ocean liner, have an estimated value of £122m and will be sold as a single lot.
The Titanic treasures were amassed during seven trips to the wreck, which rests about two-and-a-half miles below the ocean surface in the North Atlantic.
The auction is scheduled for April 1 by Guernsey’s, a New York City auction house but the results of the auction will not be announced until April 15, the date the Titanic sank on its maiden voyage after striking an iceberg a century ago.
The auction is subject to approval by a federal judge in Virginia whose jurisdiction has given oversight to legal issues governing the salvage of the Titanic for years.
Titanic’s sinking claimed the lives of more than 1,500 of the 2,228 passengers and crew.
An international team led by oceanographer Robert Ballard located the wreckage in 1985, about 400 miles off Newfoundland, Canada.
US district judge Rebecca Beach Smith, who has overseen the case in Norfolk, Virginia, has ruled that official salvage company RMS Titanic has title to the artefacts and is entitled to full compensation for them.
Judge Smith, a maritime jurist who has called the Titanic an “international treasure,” has approved covenants and conditions that the company previously worked out with the federal US government, including a prohibition against selling the collection piecemeal.
The conditions also require RMS to make the artefacts available “to present and future generations for public display and exhibition, historical review, scientific and scholarly research, and educational purposes”.
RMS recovered artefacts from the shipwreck in expeditions in 1987, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000 and 2004.