RMS Carpathia Auction Offers Salvaged Objects From Titanic’s Rescuer
Around 12:20 AM on April 15th, 1912, the RMS Titanic sent out a fateful distress call. The ship had just made contact with an iceberg during its maiden voyage. By the time the nearby RMS Carpathia received the message, the disaster had already begun. However, the Carpathia still arrived in time to save over 700 passengers and crew members from the Titanic wreck.
The Royal Mail Ship (RMS) Carpathia spent over 80 years at the bottom of the sea after an encounter with German submarines in World War I. Only within the last 20 years has the Carpathia returned to the world. Now, a selection of salvaged artifacts from the RMS Carpathia’s watery grave will come to auction with Ahlers & Ogletree on January 15th, 2021.
The RMS Carpathia went down in history as a footnote to the Titanic story. The Cunard ship had actually been in service since 1903, primarily shuttling tourists and immigrants across the Atlantic. It was smaller than the Titanic and similar liners, even lacking first-class accommodations for several years.
When the ship’s crew received the Titanic’s distress call, the Carpathia was already carrying around 740 of its own passengers. Captain Arthur Henry Rostron immediately turned the ship around after hearing the SOS. It took three hours of travel at top speed for the Carpathia to arrive. By then, more than 1,500 passengers and crew members from the Titanic had died in the water. Due to their quick actions, Carpathia’s captain and crew prevented any further loss of life. They received numerous awards after returning to shore, including medals of gratitude from the Titanic survivors. Captain Rostron earned a Congressional Gold Medal and was later knighted.
Just a few years later, the Carpathia was pressed into military service with the outbreak of World War I. Three torpedoes from a German U-boat finally sank the steamship in 1918. The wreck settled 220 miles off the eastern coast of Ireland, nearly inaccessible under 514 feet of water. A U.S. diving team, led by adventure writer Clive Cussler, discovered the shipwreck in 2000. A chipped porcelain plate bearing the Cunard logo certified the discovery.
The RMS Carpathia wreck was soon acquired by Premier Exhibitions Inc., an American company that also manages relics from the Titanic. A 2007 expedition retrieved artifacts from the Carpathia. The upcoming Ahlers & Ogletree RMS Carpathia auction offers 94 items from that trip, including various tableware items and pieces of the ship.
Leading the catalog is a first-class soup plate from the RMS Carpathia (estimate: USD 700 – $900). This signature blue-and-white ‘Ormond’ pattern is unique to Cunard ships. It shows flowers and leaves wrapping around the edge of each dish with the company logo in the center. The bold pattern set these dishes apart from the third-class dinnerware, which lacked all decoration and color. Several other ‘Ormond’ pieces will be available in the auction, including cups and saucers.
The sale will also include pieces of the Carpathia wreck itself. One of the salvaged portholes (estimate: $700 – $900) still contains the original glass in a brass and bronze frame. Collectors will also find a pair of binoculars with glass lenses, several linoleum tiles possibly from the third-class dining room, and a coat hook.
Those looking for more unusual Carpathia artifacts will find single pieces of coal recovered from the engines. Bidding starts at $25 apiece.
Other Carpathia items have come to auction in the years since its discovery, mostly memorabilia saved before its sinking. The highest-profile pieces are those relating to the Titanic wreck, including a navigational sextant used during the rescue. The piece sold for GBP 66,000 (USD 89,800) in a 2016 auction.
Ahlers & Ogletree will present the RMS Carpathia auction on January 15th, 2021 starting at 10:00 AM EST. Visit Bidsquare for the full catalog and to place a bid.
Want to learn more about lots with historical significance? Artcurial recently brought a segment of the Eiffel Tower’s original staircase to auction.
UPDATE SEPTEMBER, 2022: Ahlers & Ogletree’s auction of artifacts from the RMS Carpathia wreck yielded spirited bidding and eye-popping prices in January, 2021. The top lot of the sale was a salvaged porthole with partial wood from the Carpathia. It sold for $13,000 after attracting 28 bids. Close behind was a salvaged engine telegraph from the ship, which achieved $12,000 against a presale estimate of $500 to $700.
The RMS Carpathia auction turned out additional strong prices for a salvaged engine order telegraph ($12,000), a salvaged deck light with globe ($12,000), a salvaged marine chronometer ($9,500), and an iron drain grill from the ship ($4,250). One of the most hotly anticipated lots, a salvaged first-class soup plate, brought in a modest $2,500.
After the bidding concluded, the auction received criticism from the Advisory Council on Underwater Archaeology (ACUA), an international advisory body on issues of underwater archaeology. The group issued a letter after the sale to express opposition and concern over the private sale of excavated objects.
“Shipwrecks are time capsules that offer an immeasurable amount of information about the past when scientifically investigated. They serve as memorials, burial grounds, and natural and cultural preserves. Salvage operations (i.e. the destructive removal of objects for sale) of RMS Carpathia or any other shipwreck damages the site and destroys the context of removed objects,” the group noted in the letter. “While items such as coal, broken crockery, and portholes can be sold, their cultural and scientific significance outweighs any price.”