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<i>Titanic</i> Memorabilia Go On Auction Block in New York - 2004-06-11

Artifacts and memorabilia are being auctioned off in New York City from the Titanic, the famous cruise ship that sank after it hit an iceberg during its maiden voyage in 1912. Sellers are hoping that fans of the ill-fated ship will pay high prices to take home a piece of history.

"Interest in the lot at 500? Any interest at 300 to start? Three hundred and 325, 350, 375 now," said an auctioneer. "Four hundred is bid and 425 is bid and 450. And 450 is bid and 475 is here and 500 is here and 550 is here and 600 is here and 650 is here and now 700?"

A lifejacket, a wooden chair from the deck of Titanic, and a range of artifacts and movie memorabilia drew crowds of Titanic-enthusiasts to New York's South Street Seaport this week. Auctioneers say it is the largest Titanic collection to go on sale all at once.

Lara McGill was among the many New Yorkers who came to browse through a collection of relics from the ship. She says she likes seeing the items and hearing the stories that go along with them.

"There is the lifejacket that was cut off of a body that they had found floating," she said. "They actually had to cut it off of him and they have that on exhibit. And one of the deck chairs, which we had heard earlier that a drowning victim was found holding on to it, he was using that to keep him afloat. So I think those are the two most fascinating pieces because there is history behind them."

The Titanic has spawned a major entertainment industry in books and movies, some of it fiction and some of it true. Consigner Gary Robinson is selling a gold and porcelain cup that he says was taken off the Titanic before it left for its fateful voyage.

"This is a very rare demi-tasse cup and saucer that was taken off the Titanic by a crew member as a souvenir," said Gary Robinson. "You'll see that it's very small. It would fit neatly into a crew member's pocket. This was something he pilfered to take home to tell his wife and children that this was a souvenir from the great new liner on its maiden voyage."

But, he admits, there is a healthy amount of myth-making going on, and only some of the stories being told have elements of truth.

"There is a lot of license taken when it comes to the Titanic and you have to question everything you hear," he said.

Many of the items being auctioned come from personal collections and, like the stories about the Titanic, were passed down from generation to generation.

The suggested prices for the artifacts range from a couple hundred dollars to more than $60,000. Some items, like the restored deck chair, don't even have a printed dollar value. You'd have to ask someone in charge if you were really interested.

One consigner, Tony Probst, is offering more than 300 items from his personal collection at the auction. He is selling every piece he owns in the hope that he can get out of debt, but he says it's not easy to let go.

"I don't know what I feel actually, it's been a whole morning of mixed emotions," he said. "Highs and lows. There are a few pieces I am emotionally attached to and I wonder where they are going to go and who is going to end up with them."

His favorite piece is a menu from the Titanic.

"The story on the menu is, when they were recovering bodies, if they could identify the body by the contents in their pockets they would bring them back to Halifax," he said. "If they couldn't, they would bury them at sea. And there was a body that had this third class menu on it with no identification. And the priest who was giving the last rites asked if he could keep the menu. It was given to him, and I got the menu from a descendant."

Everyone seems to have a relic they like the best. Kent Malave and his son, David, say the fun part was touching items that are part of history.

Kent Malave: "Tony was nice enough to get the lifejacket out and let David take a look at it and touch it. And what did you do after that?"

David Malave: "Not after that, before. I got to touch a piece of a lifeboat that saw it all that night."

Lara McGill and her brother, Kim Jonathan Mills, say they can't afford the pricier items, but they'd like to take home a little something. And it doesn't cost money to dream.

McGill: "I'm hoping, some little artifact of some sort. I'm not a heavy bidder. Of course I would love to have something like the deck chair but I'm not in that league."

Mills: "And on the menu for supper they had gruel, which we don't have that anymore. But I thought for $10,000 it would look really cute on the wall, don't you think? It was going to go right next to my lifejacket."

The auction drew a crowd of about 100 potential buyers, and was also open to bidders on the Internet.