The violin thought to have been played during the sinking of the RMS Titanic is expected to fetch between $300,000 and $400,000 when it goes up for auction this Saturday in Wiltshire, England. Henry Aldridge & Son, an auction house that specializes in Titanic memorabilia, is handling the sale, which has sparked debate in the string-instrument trade over questions of authenticity.
The wooden fiddle is said to be the one used by Wallace Hartley as his band famously played on to help keep the passengers calm after the ocean liner struck an iceberg and began to sink. The British musician perished in the disaster and his violin was assumed to be lost, but the auctioneers say the instrument, which re-appeared in an attic in 2006, has a provenance dating back to Hartley's fiancee.
In a statement on its website, the auction house says it spent the past seven years and thousands of dollars on forensic testing to prove the instrument's authenticity, consulting government scientists and Oxford University. CT scans showed some evidence of salt-water corrosion, and the metal screws on the tailpiece's silver plate appeared to have been exposed to sea water over time.
Still, a number of doubts have been raised over the violin's ties to the ship. Some luthiers have pointed to inconsistencies with the story of the instrument; they point out that it wasn't included in a list of items found with Hartley's remains in 1912 (though such lists were usually incomplete). Others have noted that the genuine article would have disintegrated after exposure to the waters of the North Atlantic.
The violin has been on a touring exhibition since May, making stops at roadside Titanic museums in Branson, MO and Pigeon Forge, TN. It will be on display for one day before the auction, in which it could set a record as the most valuable piece of Titanic memorabilia.
According to the auction house, the violin is German, “probably Berlin or Dresden school, circa 1880, bearing a later label Giovan Paolo Maggini Brescia." The instrument is being sold alongside a leather luggage case initialled W. H. H. (Wallace Henry Hartley), in which Wallace was said to have placed the violin before going into the cold North Atlantic.