Christie's auction 25 June 2008

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Personally I found the estimates for some of the lots in the upcoming Christie's sale rather high.

Especially the Marconigrams.

As well I have some concern about the "Titanic" lifejacket on offer.

While the auction title for this does not outright call it a Titanic lifejacket the description certainly implies it is one.

Certainly it is a period 1912 Fossberry lifejacket identical in appearance to those used on Titanic but the chain of custody does not support it was actually retrieved from a victim of the disaster.

Further, the straps have not been cut on it and are all the original length.

On the body recover mission the lifejacket straps had to be cut in order to remove the jackets from the bodies of the victims.

The ice and waterlogged canvas of the straps would have made untying them a near impossibility.

On all of the Titanic lifejackets I have seen that were taken off the bodies of victims the straps have been cut by crews of the recovery ships.

In fact, the only Titanic lifejacket I have seen with intact straps in the one worn by Mrs. Astor and which was removed onboard the Carpathia.

It never got wet and the straps were simply untied.

The auction decription for the lifejacket being sold at Christies also gives no details as to how the jacket in fact was recovered.

Speculation is put forward that it may have washed up on a beach in the Canadian Maritimes (impossible due to the ocean currents where Titanic sank), or that it was recovered by the Mackay Bennett or the Minia.

However, nothing is offered in the way of provenance to support any of these theories.

I sincerely hope that "buyer beware" is firmly in the minds of any potential bidders on this one!

Steve Santini

[Moderator's Note: This message, originally posted to a thread discussing Christie's June 2007 auction, has been moved to this newly-created one for the 2008 auction. MAB]
>>I sincerely hope that "buyer beware" is firmly in the minds of any potential bidders on this one!<<

It's on my mind just watching from the sidelines. Thanks for the heads up and your insights Steve. They have been sorely missed.
More info regarding this alleged "Titanic" lifejacket that will be auctioned at Christies


The story says the jacket has the name "Titanic" stenciled on it in ink. None of the Titanic's jackets bore the ship's name and none of the surviving examples have it either.

Further, it is claimed this jacket was found after it "washed up on a beach".

Sorry, not possible. The ocean currents would not have permitted any object to wash up on any part of Nova Scotia.

I sure hope the folks a Christies read this but I am not counting on it. I would phone them and offer this info to them but I fear it would do no good.

Steve Santini
>>The story says the jacket has the name "Titanic" stenciled on it in ink.<<

Now there's a red flag for anybody who genuinely knows the ground.

>>I would phone them and offer this info to them but I fear it would do no good.<<

Perhaps a letter or e-mail to anybody who prints or posts this story would do some good. I sent a letter to the editor with a reference to the THS website and a link to the page with the photo of Mrs. Astor's lifejacket. I don't know if they'll care but it's worth a try.
Christies' site says nothing about Titanic being stencilled on the lifebelt. They say it may have been taken from Mackay-Bennett or Minia. These ships picked up floating debris, so why not? It certainly looks like a lifebelt from Titanic. The sizes of the cork blocks are exactly the same.

What intrigues me is the absence of the dozens of lifebelts dumped on Carpathia. Some survivors kept their lifebelts as souvenirs, but most lifebelts were put into a hold. Where did they go? They were not included in the salvage value of Titanic by the US court.
Actually, numerous news reports say the jacket was found on an "isolated beach".

And this is coming straight from the mouths of the owners.

One such story mentioned the TITANIC in ink.

Cheers, Steve
They were not included in the salvage value of Titanic by the US court.
Would they have even had any salvage value? I, too, have often wondered what happened to Titanic's lifebelts once aboard the Carpathia. I assume they would not have been re-used?
Take a look at the Christie's catalog description again. It says the life jacket came from a body, but Christie's is quoted in the latest newspaper article stating it could not have come from a body. They must have learned indirectly through ET as the moderator says he e-mailed the discrepancy to the newspaper.

I wonder if they'll amend the description at the time of the sale. Also, the catalog description states as follows:

It is obvious that it has been in the water for a period of time, which would account for the the absence of any printed marking and the presence of oil and possibly blood stains.

Yet, the following newspaper article states that it says "Titanic" in faded blue letters. That doesn't sound like the absence of printed markings to me. Does that mean, using the same logic, it could not have been in the water??
Hi Steve,

been following this with interest. Didn't the last jacket Christie's sold have the straps complete as well, but no markings besides makers marks? The story of how it was found seems to drift in the various articles (no pun intended) with some stating it was found on a dock (strong provenance indeed). Another article online states this current offering is identical to the Astor jacket, which I do not believe is true in regard to the blue stenciled lettering.

Article link

Quote from the link you provided...

"The vest has been owned by the descendants of John James Dunbar ever since he found it, either while looking for remains along the Halifax coast or after picking it up from a pile of debris dumped on a dock by one of the four ships searching the site for bodies."

Pile of debris dumped on a dock???!!!!

Give me a break!!!!

Man, these "Maritime Historians" that Christies has working for them sure are something.

Maybe they should try consulting a Titanic relic historian for a change.

I have no doubt some people are reading these posting and everytime a point of contention is brough up they simply add to their story.

It won't do.

Steve Santini
Hi Tim,

The thing with this lifejacket is that it is proper in all regards (assuming it does not have Titanic stamped or stenciled on it) yet it's chain of custody is the problem.

Certainly it is a Fossberry jacket as used on the Titanic and certainly it is coming out of the right part of the world.

Personally I would very much like the chance to study it hands on.

Having had a good deal of past experience with these jackets would allow me to perform an examination that would look for certain signs of distress, degeneration, etc, that I know were present on other examples that were in the water.

I think Christies or any other major auction house offering high end Titanic items should consult with people who know about such things.

It would certainly help the sale of such items and weed out those that are not correct.

The case of this lifejacket reminds me very much of the case of the Titanic deck chair that sold at Aldridges a number of years ago.

The owners of this chair had a story that linked it to Titanic and the chair certainly was the right type, etc.

Problem was, in it's original form as offered by the owners the oral history had loads of holes and problems with it.

And this in turn hindered them selling the chair on a number of forums.

In time however the owners enlisted my help and that of Craig Sopin and we applied our own research skills to the chair which in turn led to it's being authenticated and finally sold at auction.

Should we have been asked to do the same with this lifejacket then perhaps it's history and/or origin as well as chain of custody could be more firmly established.

Perhaps not, but I do know we would certainly be willing to take a dedicated crack at it.

Cheers, Steve Santini

Timothy Trower

Former Member

Thanks for the additional information. You are one of the few in the world with the knowledge and the knowledge base to examine an item like this. Maybe its the real thing, but as we've all noted, the chain of evidence/provenance is murky.

Kevin Saucier

Former Member
There are only a handful few sources that should be used for the provenance on an authentic Titanic relic. The best is the original owner or direct descendant and another is Steve Santini...even better when it's both.

Personally, I would not consider purchasing a questionable high-end item unless it had his blessing.

Kevin Saucier
"A spokesman said: "It is unclear whether it came from a beach 'sweep' looking for remains along the shores of Nova Scotia, or from a victim recovered by the S.S. MacKay-Bennett, S.S. Minia, or one of the other ships sent out on the search for bodies." - BBC

I thought John James Dunbar found it on a beach, undoubtedly near a whiting and a snail...uh...I mean in a pile of stuff dumped on a dock. Or both. Or not. Hmm. But, didn't it also come from a body - didn't the Auction house state that was a potentiality at first in the catalog, before they said it could not? Or would not? I'll sit this dance out

For $68,500, I guess you get to believe whatever you want.

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