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Record Titanic sale floats bidder’s boat
8:10am Tuesday 22nd October 2013 in News
WILTSHIRE was put on the map on Saturday when TV crews from all over the world descended on Henry Aldridge and Son salerooms in Devizes for the auction of the violin that was played to passengers as the Titanic sank.
Wallace Hartley’s violin was found strapped to his body the day after the ship foundered in the North Atlantic in April 1912 after hitting an iceberg.
Auctioneer Alan Aldridge and his team, including son Andrew, spent years ensuring that the instrument they were asked to sell was the genuine article. It had allegedly been found six years ago in an attic in a house in Yorkshire.
And on Saturday it became the first item of Titanic memorabilia to sell for more than £1million.
Alan Aldridge brought down his gavel after a bid of £900,000 was agreed for the violin that belonged to Mr Hartley, the bandleader aboard the doomed vessel, who led his fellow musicians in the hymn Nearer My God to Thee as the ship slid beneath the waves.
With the buyer’s premium and VAT the successful telephone bidder will have to shell out more than £1 million, while the auctioneers will pocket £105,000.
Dozens of Titanic enthusiasts thronged the saleroom at the Bath Road Business Centre in Devizes.
There was an expectant hush as bids were received by telephones around the room.
Mr Aldridge started the bidding at £50, to allow his wife Maddie’s hairdresser, who had given her so much help while she was recovering from a leg injury last year, to register a bid for the iconic item, but the sums soon disappeared into the stratosphere.
The violin carried a guide price of £200,000 to £300,00 but that was soon left well behind. There was much discussion between the bidders and their telephone interlocutors, Doug Millar and Andrew Aldridge.
Andrew Aldridge said: “It was an exceptional price for an exceptional item.
“The sale was the culmination of a seven-year journey with input from some of the finest specialists on the planet in music, history, silver and so on, the fusion of a lot of minds.
“I can only describe it as a 50-piece jigsaw – each of the component pieces on its own didn’t mean very much but put together they formed the strongest possible provenance package.”
The last competitor dropped out at £850,000 and the successful bidder clinched the deal at £900,000.
A loud cheer went up when the gavel came down.
The sale is the culmination of many years of hard work by Alan Aldridge, his family and his team. Mr Aldridge thanked all those who had helped him prove the authenticity of the instrument, which bears a silver plaque reading: “For Wallace on the occasion of our engagement, from Maria.”
The sale was covered by media organisations from all over the world, and cameras from NBC, CBS, Sky News and others from around Europe turned the auction house into a movie set.
Titanic expert Andrew Aldridge said: “Devizes has never had a media event of this level before.”
A member of his staff added: “If this doesn’t put Devizes on the map, nothing will.”
Sadly, though, when the sale was televised in Australia, the venue was described as “London”.
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