Titanic life jacket to go on sale in New York

NEW YORK (Reuters) - An unused life jacket from the doomed Titanic ship will go under the hammer later this month in New York, Christie’s auction house said on Wednesday.

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The cork-filled life preserver -- still largely intact, but stained and torn in parts -- was thought to have been found by farmer John James Dunbar on the Halifax shoreline after the passenger ship sank off Newfoundland.

The liner sank during its maiden voyage from the British port of Southampton to New York in April, 1912 when it hit an iceberg, causing some 1,500 people to die.

Christie’s, which estimated that the life preserver would sell for $60,000 to $80,000, sold another Titanic life jacket last year in London for $119,000.

Maritime specialist Gregg Dietrich said there was still huge public interest in Titanic memorabilia as the sinking of the ship, which had been billed as unsinkable, caused such a loss of life and was one of the first world-wide news events.

“The Titanic is really one of those bookmarks in time,” he said during a press viewing of the item before the auction.

Dietrich said that after the London sale last year, Christie’s was inundated with offers of what people thought were Titanic artifacts, but about 99 percent proved to be reproductions.

After getting a call in February from the Nova Scotia MacQuarrie family, who had kept the jacket safe for generations, Dietrich went to check its authenticity and found it had the correct dimensions and looked damaged by water.

He said the jacket -- believed to be one of six remaining -- appeared to have been unused because the shoulder straps were still intact whereas Titanic passengers tended to have had their life preservers cut off to avoid skin chaffing.

Dietrich said that the cork filling the jackets was so heavy that many of the survivors and victims of Titanic were found to have broken their jaws on the preservers when they hit the water after jumping from the ship.

The preserver will be the main item in Christie’s Ocean Liner auction that also includes a second-class passenger list carried off by 12-year-old survivor Bertha Watt as well as her high school essay describing the night the Titanic went down.

Another item going on sale is a Marconi Gram sent by another survivor, Helen, to her family, estimated to fetch $7,000 to $10,000.

Editing by Michelle Nichols and Sandra Maler