Learn about the controversy surrounding the authenticity of the Hartley Violin which sold for $1.7 million in 2013.
As the Titanic sank on a cold dark night in the Atlantic ocean in 1912, a Stradivarius violin is believed to have been playing the hymn ‘Nearer My God To Thee’ by RMS Titanic Bandmaster, Wallace Hartley, who was in possession of the violin for the cross-Atlantic trip.
Somewhat miraculously, this Strad was saved from it’s watery grave water and re-appeared in an attic in Yorkshire in 2006, according to its auctioneers.
How Did This Stradivarius Miraculously Survive the Sinking of the Titanic?
According to the forensics done on the violin, although the bodywork had deposits of salt water, the Strad was stored in a near-waterproof leather case. As well, the animal glue that was used to hold the case together only melts when it is hot, not when it is cold.
It’s believed that the Stradivarius violin survived inside its leather case, which was strapped to Wallace Hartley’s dead body, which very luckily floated upright in his cork and linen lifejacket for ten days.
The Mackay-Bennett morgue ship was eventually sent to pick up the bodies of dead passengers and managed to find Hartley’s lifeless body, along with the Stradivarius violin, which was largely undamaged by its terrible ordeal.
The Stradivarius was then sent back to Hartley’s fiancée Maria Robinson and after 101 years of twists and turns, it managed to find its way to a public auction at Henry Aldridge and Son where it’s unique history has made this violin one of the most sought after by collectors and violin enthusiasts around the world.
How was the Titanic Stradivarius Violin Authenticated?
Thousands of dollars were spent by its previous owner to get the violin verified as both a genuine Stradivarius violin and more importantly as the Hatley Strad that sank with the Titanic in 1912.
World renowned Violin dealer, Andrew Hooker, knew that other famous violins have survived encounters with seawater in the past and believed that this particular Stradivarius could indeed be genuine. He notes that in 1952, an 18th century Stradivari violin was swept out to sea but washed up on shore the next day and could be played again.
Hooker and many others examined the Hartley violin in person and says it has been restored since surviving the Titanic disaster. In particular, here is the list of experts who worked on authenticating this rare musical instrument over a seven year period:
- Andrew Hooker – violin dealer
- Christian Tennyson-Ekeberg – biographer of violinist Wallace Hartley
- Peter Boyd-Smith – White Star Line memorabilia dealer
- Craig Sopin – collector of Titanic memorabilia
- Officials at the Forensic Science Service
Yet, despite all of the work done to authenticate this particular Stradivarious, there are still lingering questions and doubts, such as why the violin and case were not on Hartley’s personal effects list?
An Auction Beyond Expectations
In October 2013, the Hartley’s Titanic Violin was sold at a public auction in Britain for £1.1 million, or about $1.78 million. This was triple the expected price as the auctioneers, Henry Aldridge and Son, believed that the selling price would be between £200,000 and £300,000. Fierce bidding between two telephone auctioneers brought the selling price up quickly and quite dramatically, which set a new world record for the highest price fetched by a piece of Titanic memorabilia.