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10-October 2013

Violin that was played to calm passengers as Titanic sank undergoes CT scan to prove authenticity before going to auction

Wallace Hartley's violin in its case (pictured) was found strapped to his body after the sinking of the Titanic. After years of authentication, they are finally being auctioned for an estimated $800,000

  • The violin is unplayable with two long cracks in its body caused up by moisture damage, but instrument is said to be in reasonable condition
  • It is expected to fetch around $800,000 at auction and has been forensically examined and has undergone a CT scan to prove its authenticity
  • Violinist Wallace Hartley's valise bag and seven water-stained sheets of music, found with his body after the disaster, will also be sold at auction
  • Miss Robinson had given the violin to Mr Hartley in 1910. An engraving on a silver plate on the instrument explains it was to mark their engagement

The violin played by the bandmaster of the Titanic as the ship was sinking is finally being auctioned for an estimated $800,000.

The historic instrument, which underwent a CT scan to prove it is the real deal, is expected to make a world record sum for a piece of Titanic memorabilia at the British auction, which is attracting huge international interest.

The wooden fiddle has been forensically proven to be the one used by Wallace Hartley as his band famously played on to help keep the passengers calm during the disaster.

Wallace Hartley famously carried on playing his violin with the band to keep the passengers calm during the disaster. The instrument was gifted to him by his fiance, Miss Robinson to mark their engagement in 1910 - shown by the silver plaque pictured left. Mr Hartley's signet ring is pictured right

The British musician kept the violin and sheet music in a leather valise case that was recovered from his drowned body days afterwards.

Its existence and survival only emerged in 2006 when the son of an amateur violinist who was gifted it by her music teacher in the early 1940s, contacted the auctioneers.

It triggered a meticulous seven year investigation to prove the instrument's authenticity that included the violin being forensically examined and even undergoing a hospital CT scan.

The violin only emerged in 2006 when the son of an amateur violinist who was gifted it by her music teacher in the early 1940s, contacted the auctioneers. It triggered a meticulous seven year investigation to prove the instrument's authenticity that included forensic examinations and a hospital CT scan

The British musician (pictured left) kept the violin (pictured right) and sheet music in a leather valise case that was recovered from his drowned body days afterwards the maritime disaster

Contemporary documents were also uncovered to confirm that the instrument was returned to Mr Hartley's family and then passed on to the current owner.

Now that its provenance has been proven, the violin is to be offered for sale in Wiltshire next week.

Despite two long cracks on its body caused up by moisture damage, the German-made instrument is said to be in reasonable condition if unplayable.

Mr Hartley was engaged to Miss Robinson (pictured right) when the Titanic sunk. He kept the violin she had given him to mark their engagement with him when he was battling for his life in the freezing waters after the ship went down

Being sold along with it is Mr Hartley's valise bag and leather portfolio case and seven water-stained American Rag time sets of sheet music that have remained intact.

A never-before-seen photo of Mr Hartley in his school music class from the early 1890s is also included in the archive.

All of the items were given to the Bridlington Salvation Army band following the death of Mr Hartley's fiance, Maria Robinson, in 1939.

Poignant reminder: Maria Robinson's diary entry recording the return of Wallace's violin and his personal belongings to her, following the accident

The archive was then passed to the band's music teacher who in turn gave it to one of her students, named only as Evelyn.

Her reason for giving the violin, bag and contents were the fiddle was regarded as unplayable and Evelyn's brother would be able to restore it for his sister to practice with. It is her unnamed son who now stands to benefit from the equivalent of a sizeable lottery win when the lot goes under the hammer for a six figure sum.

Some experts had doubted that the violin really did belong to Mr Hartley, but it was found with his body and a handful of precious mementos that he kept with him until the very end, including his fiance's locket, which contains a picture of him, placed in it by her

Andrew Aldridge, of auctioneers Henry Aldridge and Son of Devizes, Wilts, said they had invested many thousands of pounds in the research.

He said: 'This violin is coming to auction with one of the most complete provenance packages put together for a sale.

'The authentication process behind the collection has been a long and exhaustive one with some of the world's leading experts in their respective fields helping to assemble a conclusive package of independent reports to accompany the archive.

Wallace Hartley (Front 4th from Right) as a 30 year old in the Nelson Congregational orchestra in 1908. He did not receive his now famous violin until 1910

'There has been a certain element of CSI behind it; a mixture of modern scientific techniques allied with historical research.

'The violin is one of the most iconic collectable items of the 20th century and bears testimony to the courage of the bandsmen on Titanic.

'Word of the violin's possible existence and our research into it got out a couple of years ago and since then there has almost been this mythical status attached to it.

'The violin spent much of this summer on display at two Titanic museums in America and was seen by over 300,000 people.

'It is a once in a lifetime opportunity for any collector. There is a great level of interest in it.

Here, Wallace Hartley (Back left) is photographed as a teenage school boy in the early 1890s, displaying a talent for the violin

'We expect it to exceed the world record for the most valuable Titanic item sold at auction which was a 32ft long map of the ship made for the British inquiry into the disaster that sold in May 2011 for 220,000 pounds.'

Mr Hartley, from Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, was the bandleader on the Titanic for its doomed, maiden voyage from Southampton to New York in April 1912.

To maintain calm, the eight-piece orchestra was moved on deck and played songs while the passengers were loaded into lifeboats as the liner sunk having hit an iceberg.

Mr Hartley was one of the 1,522 people who perished in the tragedy.

It is believed that the bandleader strapped the valise case around his body, possibly as it may have aided his buoyancy.

According to the captain of the body recovery ship the Mackay Bennett, all the bodies were found upright and invariably with a life preserver.

Although the violin was not mentioned in Mr Hartley's personal effects list, it is thought the valise was simply regarded as luggage and not a body effect.

The leather valise case (pictured) that was recovered from the drowned body of the British musician days afterward the accident will also be auctioned next week

The violin in its valise was sent back to England to Miss Robinson. A note expressing her thanks for the return of the violin was discovered.

She had given the maple, spruce and ebony violin to Mr Hartley in 1910. An engraving on a silver plate screwed onto the base of it explains it was to mark their engagement.

The plate has been forensically examined by scientists at the Government's Forensic Science Service (FSS) in Chepstow and Begbroke Nano, Oxford Materials Characterization Services at the University of Oxford.

They have confirmed that the plate and engraving date to around 1910 and that the screws used to fix it to the instrument are of the same age and haven't been taken out since. They also established that corrosion deposits on the plate are consistent with the violin having been immersed in seawater.

The private hospital CT scan revealed small deposits of glue in and underneath the two large cracks and a layer of varnish different to the original.

Incredibly, Mr Hartley's sheet music was found in the bag, including a piece poignantly named 'lest we forget'. There is no sign of the sheet music for 'Nearer my God to thee,' which is said to be the last song played by the courageous band

These results are consistent with a letter written by the Salvation Army music teacher to Evelyn in which she expressed her hope that the student's brother could perhaps repair it. Michael Jones, of the FSS, said: 'The silver fish plate was analysed by use of a Scanning Electron Microscope in conjunction with an X-ray Microprobe Analysis System.

'This method allows both the visualisation and elemental analysis of solid samples.

'The plate on the violin appears to be an original fixture. There is no evidence to suggest this plate had been recently attached or had been a replacement of an earlier fixture. 'The corrosion deposits associated with the surface of this silver plate would be considered compatible with immersion in seawater. 'The silver fish plate has shown to be original circa 1910. It appears that the it has not been removed.'

The stoicism of the band became legendary and the musical tribute, (pictured right) is just one of many pieces written to commemorate the brave band members. Mr Hartley's tombstone is pictured left

Richard Slater, a silver and jewellery expert who sits on the Council of the Gemmological Association of Great Britain, said: 'I have examined the piece using a 10X loupe and it would appear that the silver panel has not been removed from the fish plate.'

Craig Sopin, 55, a lawyer from Philadelphia, owns one of the world's largest collections of Titanic memorabilia.

He said: 'To say I was sceptical at first (about the violin) would be an understatement. But after I conducted a detailed investigation into the history and forensics of the instrument I became convinced beyond doubt that this violin belonged to Wallace Hartley and that it was with him on RMS Titanic.'

Steve Santini, a consulting historian to James Cameron's 1998 film, Titanic, said: 'Personally, I am of the opinion that the Hartley violin exhibits exactly the sort of condition issues one could expect to see in an instrument protected in a leather suitcase floating about for a number of days in very cold seawater.'

The auction takes place in Devizes on October 19.

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