Items from the Titanic Are Up for Auction

For reasons that should be apparent (see: iceberg), artifacts from the R.M.S. Titanic are extremely rare. Some objects that belonged to survivors have ended up in museums, while other items from the wreckage, including clothing that belonged to passengers who died on the ship's maiden voyage, have been auctioned off (nearly 5500 appeared in a single auction in 2012). Today, Lion Heart Autographs kicked off an auction that includes three rare Titanic finds from survivors accused of bribing their way onto Lifeboat No. 1.

The artifacts include a ticket to the ship’s Turkish Baths’ weighing chair, a menu from the last lunch served on the ship, and a letter from Laura Mabel Francatelli to fellow survivor Abraham Salomon.

The passengers in the lifeboat opted not to return to rescue those stranded in the freezing water after the ship sank, despite the fact that the boat had a 40-person capacity and held just 12 people (seven crewmembers plus Francatelli, her employer Lucy Duff-Gordon and husband Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon, businessman Charles Stengel, and Salomon). Their decision not to return, and the accusations of bribery, led to an investigation that Francatelli references in her letter to Salomon.

"We do hope you have now quite recovered from the terrible experience," Francatelli wrote. "I am afraid our nerves are still bad, as we had such trouble & anxiety added to our already awful experience by the very unjust inquiry when we arrived in London. Lady Gordon’s mother is with us and she would so much like to meet you being one who shared our boat. Kindest regards. Yours sincerely…"

By Ben Wittick (1845–1903) - Brian Lebel's Old West Show and Auction, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Photo of Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett, Purchased for $10, Could Be Worth Millions
By Ben Wittick (1845–1903) - Brian Lebel's Old West Show and Auction, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
By Ben Wittick (1845–1903) - Brian Lebel's Old West Show and Auction, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Several years ago, Randy Guijarro paid $2 for a few old photographs he found in an antiques shop in Fresno, California. In 2015, it was determined that one of those photos—said to be the second verified picture ever found of Billy the Kid—could fetch the lucky thrifter as much as $5 million. That story now sounds familiar to Frank Abrams, a lawyer from North Carolina who purchased his own photo of the legendary outlaw at a flea market in 2011. It turns out that the tintype, which he paid $10 for, is thought to be an image of Billy and Pat Garrett (the sheriff who would eventually kill him) taken in 1880. Like Guijarro’s find, experts say Abrams’s photo could be worth millions.

The discovery is as much a surprise to Abrams as anyone. As The New York Times reports, what drew Abrams to the photo was the fact that it was a tintype, a metal photographic image that was popular in the Wild West. Abrams didn’t recognize any of the men in the image, but he liked it and hung it on a wall in his home, which is where it was when an Airbnb guest joked that it might be a photo of Jesse James. He wasn’t too far off.

Using Google as his main research tool, Abrams attempted to find out if there was any famous face in that photo, and quickly realized that it was Pat Garrett. According to The New York Times:

Then, Mr. Abrams began to wonder about the man in the back with the prominent Adam’s apple. He eventually showed the tintype to Robert Stahl, a retired professor at Arizona State University and an expert on Billy the Kid.

Mr. Stahl encouraged Mr. Abrams to show the image to experts.

William Dunniway, a tintype expert, said the photograph was almost certainly taken between 1875 and 1880. “Everything matches: the plate, the clothing, the firearm,” he said in a phone interview. Mr. Dunniway worked with a forensics expert, Kent Gibson, to conclude that Billy the Kid and Mr. Garrett were indeed pictured.

Abrams, who is a criminal defense lawyer, described the process of investigating the history of the photo as akin to “taking on the biggest case you could ever imagine.” And while he’s thrilled that his epic flea market find could produce a major monetary windfall, don’t expect to see the image hitting the auction block any time soon. 

"Other people, they want to speculate from here to kingdom come,” Abrams told The New York Times of how much the photo, which he has not yet had valuated, might be worth. “I don’t know what it’s worth. I love history. It’s a privilege to have something like this.”

[h/t: The New York Times]

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