An auction held by Henry Aldridge & Son in Devizes, Wiltshire, an artifact from the RMS Titanic found a new owner. The star of the show was a water-stained first-class dinner menu, offering a glimpse into the lavish dining experiences enjoyed by the Titanic’s elite passengers.
The auction, which took place on Saturday, November 11, 2023, showcased this rare menu but also featured other Titanic memorabilia.
The water-stained menu, bearing the White Star Line flag, detailed the culinary delights served to first-class passengers on the evening of April 11, 1912, just days before the ship met its end.
The opulence of the Titanic’s first-class dining experience was laid bare through offerings that included oysters, sirloin of beef with horseradish cream, pureed parsnips, apricot Bordaloue, and Victoria pudding.
Despite the passage of time and the menu’s exposure to the harsh North Atlantic waters during the sinking, its details have been preserved, offering a connection to an era.
The auction not only highlighted the luxurious lifestyle of the first-class passengers but also into the stories of survival and loss that unfolded on that night.
Of the 2,223 passengers and crew aboard the Titanic, only 706 survived. The auction featured items such as a tartan blanket used by a survivor to stay warm in a lifeboat, hailed as “one of the rarest three-dimensional objects” by the auction house.
This blanket, once owned by Frederick Toppin, the Assistant General Manager in New York of the company that owned the Titanic, tells a story of tragedy.
As the gavel fell, signaling the end of a bidding war, the most expensive lot emerged, a Swiss-made pocket watch that once belonged to Sinai Kantor, a second-class passenger on the Titanic.
Kantor’s pocket watch, which had the moment he entered the icy waters and later succumbed to the sea, fetched £97,000 ($119,000).
The significance of this artifact lies not only in its monetary value but in its ability to transport us back to the harrowing events of that April night.
The first-class dinner menu’s journey to the auction block is as the Titanic’s own story. Discovered in a photo album dating back to the 1960s, the menu was found by the daughter and son-in-law of the late historian Len Stephenson.
An expert on his hometown Dominion in Nova Scotia, Stephenson had a penchant for collecting and preserving historical records.
The menu, showing signs of water immersion and partial erasure, was a link to the tragedy that unfolded more than a century ago.
Auctioneer Andrew Aldridge provided valuable insights into the menu’s condition, stating, “The menu shows signs of water immersion having been partially erased, the reverse of the menu also clearly displays further evidence of this.”
Aldridge suggested that the menu might have left the ship with a survivor exposed to the cold sea waters or could have been recovered on the person of one of those lost.
The rarity of this specific menu was addressed, with Aldridge noting, “Having spoken to the leading collectors of memorabilia globally and consulted with numerous museums with Titanic collections, we can find no other surviving examples of a first-class April 11 dinner menu.”
The sale of the menu for £84,000 not only reflects the monetary value associated with such historical artifacts but also underscores the fascination with the Titanic’s tale.
The cultural significance of these items lies in their ability to bridge the gap between the past and present, allowing us to touch, feel, and connect with that era.
It continues to captivate the collective imagination, and auctions like these provide a link to the human stories that unfolded amidst the icy waters of the North Atlantic.
The Titanic’s sinking remains one of the most iconic maritime disasters in history. Over 1,500 lives were lost, and the auction items, each with its own story, provide a reflection on the human cost of this tragedy.
The tartan blanket, once owned by Frederick Toppin, Assistant General Manager in New York for the Titanic’s owning company, stands as a testament to the resilience of those who survived.
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