This violin is said to have been played by bandmaster Wallace Hartley during the final moments before the sinking of the Titanic. It’s thought he put the instrument in that leather case. Hartley’s body and the case were found by a ship that responded to the disaster. Now the violin has been sold. Peter Muhly /AFP/Getty Images
An anonymous buyer on Saturday paid about $1.6 million for a violin believed to have been played by one of the musicians who famously stayed aboard as the Titanic sank in the icy waters of the North Atlantic in April 1912.
The Associated Press writes that “the sea-corroded instrument, now unplayable, is thought to have belonged to bandmaster Wallace Hartley, who was among the disaster’s more than 1,500 victims.”
It was sold at auction by the English firm Henry Aldridge & Son. According to the BBC’s Duncan Kennedy, “the buyer was believed to be British.” The violin sold for about three times more than the price Aldridge said it was expecting.
As Weekend Edition Sunday said back in March when the auction house announced it had authenticated the instrument:
“As the Titanic sank, the story goes that Wallace Hartley and his orchestra stayed on deck and continued playing ‘Nearer My God to Thee.’ The band and their instruments, according to lore, went down with the 1500 other people who died that day.”
It’s thought that before going into the water, Hartley placed the violin in a leather case. His body and the case were recovered by one of the ships that later arrived on the scene. The violin was given to Hartley’s fiancé, Maria Robinson. It passed through some other hands before being rediscovered in 2006.
Among the clues that led to its authentication: An engraving that says, “For Wallace on the occasion of our engagement from Maria.”
The Washington Post adds that this is the most ever paid for such a relic linked to the Titanic: “Previously, the priciest Titanic artifact sold, Aldridge said, was a 32-foot long schematic plan of the ship used in Britain’s official inquiry into the tragedy, which he said fetched $356,000.”
Note: Some other news organizations are saying the price paid for for the violin was $1.45 million. In a video of the auctioneer you can clearly hear him saying the price was 900,000 British pounds, which today converts to about $1.45 million. But NPR’s Philip Reeves tells us that when the auctioneer’s fee is added, the price being paid by the buyer comes in closer to $1.6 million.