Titanic watch

A gold pocket watch found on the body of American business magnate John Jacob Astor IV (1864-1912) following the Titanic disaster was hammered down £900,000 at Henry Aldridge & Son on April 27.

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Astor helped his wife Madeleine into a lifeboat but he perished as the ship slid beneath the waves on the morning of April 15, 1912.

His body was recovered from the Atlantic Ocean a week after the tragedy and among his possessions was this 14ct gold Waltham pocket watch, engraved JJA.

The watch was passed by Astor’s son Vincent to the son of his father’s executive secretary, William Dobbyn.

Andrew Aldridge, managing director of the saleroom in Devizes, Wiltshire, said: “The market for liner material is turbo charged. If it is something unusual everyone is going that extra mile.”

He promoted the sale in the week running up to the auction in US and worldwide media and said that after significant coverage another 70 bidders registered on the morning itself.

The online bidder who secured the watch, which had been estimated at £100,000-150,000, was a new, private buyer who had seen the publicity in the US and decided to bid. After an initial commission bid online was beaten, the buyer bid online via his mobile competing against a phone bidder.

The watch had previously been owned by John Miottel, a real estate investor in California who collects ocean-liner memorabilia and created the Miottel Museum. His museum bought it in 1997 from a small auction house in North Carolina where it had been consigned by descendants of the Dobbyn family.

The result was a house record for the Wiltshire auction house (when including buyer’s premium, which takes it to £1.2m). In terms of hammer price it matched the previous high of £900,000 for a violin played by Titanic bandmaster Wallace Hartley which sold at the saleroom in 2013.

The overall sale, titled Auction of Titanic, White Star and Transport Memorabilia, on April 27 took a premium-inclusive total of £2.5m, a record for the firm.

Other highlights in include Hartley’s travel/valise case. Bearing the initials WHH embossed in black, it had contained the violin that made the auction record in 2013.

Wallace Hartley’s travel/valise case

Wallace Hartley’s travel/valise case, £290,000, at Henry Aldridge & Son on April 27.

Hartley and his band went down with the ship and his body was recovered almost two weeks later with several press reports stating that he was found "fully dressed with his music case strapped to his body".

Estimated at £100,000-120,000, it was hammered down at £290,000  (£366,000 including buyer’s premium) to a collector on the phone.

Another noteworthy item in the Titanic section of the sale was a water-stained official White Star Line manager's pocket book of sailings for 1912 belonging to Bruce Ismay's private secretary William Henry Harrison. Ismay was the highest-ranking White Star official to survive the sinking. Harrison was not so fortunate, and this book was recovered from his body.

White Star Line manager's pocket book

A water-stained official White Star Line manager's pocket book of sailings for 1912 belonging to Bruce Ismay's private secretary William Henry Harrison, £70,000 at Henry Aldridge & Son on April 27.

The book is heavily water-stained and to the “best of the auction house’s knowledge”, this is the “first example of this book to have survived having been on the Titanic”. Among interesting details, the book contains what would have been the Titanic’s sailing schedule – it was planned to have two voyages a month.

The book was bought at a hammer price of £70,000 by a British collector who plans to loan it to a US museum for display.

More than a quarter of the auction lots in the sale made four-figure sums.

Highlights from items not relating to the Titanic included an aneroid barometer that had hung in Sir Ernest Shackleton’s cabin on board the ship Quest in 1921-22.

Shackleton’s barometer

An aneroid barometer that had hung in Sir Ernest Shackleton’s cabin onboard the ship Quest in 1921-22, £30,000 at Henry Aldridge & Son on April 27.

It is accompanied by a letter that states: “This aneroid barometer was taken to the Antarctic on the Shackleton-Rowett Antarctic Expedition 1921-22 and was screwed up in Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Cabin on RYS Quest, given to me by Dr LDA Hussey.”

The Shackleton-Rowett Expedition was Shackleton's last voyage: he died of coronary thrombosis on board in January 1922.

Estimated at £5000-8000, the barometer was hammered down at £30,000 to a phone bidder, a collector of items from iconic events.