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Two Important Titanic Letters, Marconigrams Added to Already Packed Sale

by WorthPoint Staff (02/21/12).

This two-page letter, written aboard the Titanic by John Edward Simpson, an assistant surgeon on the doomed ship, is expected to realize between $40,000 and $50,000 when it goes up for auction on May 2 at Philip Weiss Auctions in Oceanside, N.Y.

OCEANSIDE, N.Y. – Two important letters relating to the doomed ocean liner Titanic, plus three early Titanic Marconigrams (radio telegrams), have been added to an already packed, three-day estate sale planned for March 1-3 by Philip Weiss Auctions. The Thursday-through-Saturday auction will be held in the firm’s spacious gallery, located at 1 Neil Court in Oceanside. The Titanic material will be offered on Friday, March 2, the sandwich day of the event.

The two letters, although written by separate people who sailed aboard the Titanic’s ill-fated maiden voyage (one survived while the other perished), are linked in a way because one author refers to the other in his text. The Marconigrams were sent in the hours following the sinking of the Titanic and the resulting mad scramble to reach the area and rescue survivors.

These items related to the Titanic come to auctiona month or so before one of the most significant collections of Titanic artifacts goes under the hammer. While there have been Titanic auctions in the past, the thousands of items that go on sale on April 11 at Guernsey Auctioneers & Brokers in New York have all been salvaged from the wreck. The collection, which is valued at $189 million, is being sold as one lot.

Considered the more valuable of the letters is a two-page missive handwritten on White Star Lines stationery by John Edward Simpson, hired on April 6, 1912 to serve as an assistant surgeon on the Titanic, treating second- and third-class passengers. The letter, dated April 11 (four days before the sinking) and written aboard the Titanic, should bring $40,000-$50,000.

A two-page letter typewritten and hand-signed by Charles Herbert Lightoller, 2nd officer on board the Titanic, carries a pre-sale estimate of $15,000-$20,000.

Addressed to Dr. Simpson’s mother, the letter reads, in part, “I am very well and am gradually getting settled in my new cabin, which is larger than my last” (referring to the previous ship he was on, the Olympic). He also writes about the theft of one of his trunks before closing, “With fondest love, John.” The letter is crisp and clean and has never before been offered at auction.

Simpson did not survive the tragedy, unlike the author of the second letter, Charles Herbert Lightoller, a 2nd officer aboard the Titanic. His letter—two pages typed on White Star Lines stationery, with Lightoller’s bold signature at the end and dated May 1, 1912—was written aboard another ship, the Adriatic, and carries a pre-sale estimate of $15,000-$20,000.

Remarkably, Lightoller’s letter goes into a detailed account of Simpson’s last hours alive: “I may say that I was practically the last man to speak to Dr. Simpson, and on this occasion he was walking along the boat-deck in company with … They were perfectly calm in the knowledge they had done their duty” and displayed “a calm and cool exterior to the passengers.”

He continued, “We exchanged the words, ‘Goodbye, old man.’ This occurred shortly before the end and I am not aware that he was seen by anyone after.” The condolence letter, written to a Mr. R.W. Graham, paints a heroic and dignified portrait of Dr. Simpson, but in the weeks after the accident a distinctly less flattering picture of Charles Lightoller began to emerge.

Three Marconigrams (radio telegrams) sent the day of the sinking of the Titanic will be sold March 2.

For starters, he was notably stricter than most officers in observing the general rule of “women and children first,” interpreting it almost to the point of “women and children only.” This led to long and agonizing good-byes on deck, wherein precious minutes were squandered instead of being put to better use loading lifeboats, a duty that fell under his direct command.

Second, Lightoller acted under the misconception that the wooden lifeboats would break in their davits if fully loaded and should therefore be sent away half-empty for a later, fuller loading when the upper decks sank nearer the water. He was also faulted for excessive speed, not having binoculars in the crow’s nest and traveling through an ice field on a night that, while clear and calm, had been the object of warnings by other boats in the area to “heave to” until morning.

In the end, Lightoller was the last survivor loaded into a lifeboat. He went on to have a long career at sea before passing away in 1954. Perhaps ironically, as a result of his testimony at a British Inquiry following the Titanic disaster, many of his recommendations for avoiding such accidents in the future were adopted—not just by Britain and the U.S., but all maritime nations.

All three of the Marconigrams were sent on April 15, 1912, the date of the sinking, and all three carry pre-sale estimates of $3,000-$5,000. The earliest of the trio, sent at 7:45 a.m. from the ship Olympic, states, “Since midnight, when her position was 41.46 N 50.14W have been unable to communicate. We are now 310 miles from her. Will inform at once if hear anything.”

The second Marconigram, sent just five minutes later, at 7:50 a.m., asks, “Captain Asian Can you give me any information on Titanic and if any ships standing by her Commander.” The third one, sent much later, at 4:40 p.m., states, “Inexpressive sorrow am proceeding straight on voyage Carpathia informs me no hope in searching will send names of survivors as obtainable.”

The auction will kick off Thursday, March 1, at 2 p.m. (EST), with 400-plus lots of sports-related items, non-sports cards, comics and comic art. Friday, March 2, will feature more than 600 lots of transportation, military, historical, circus, posters and advertising, starting at 2 p.m. The Saturday session, March 3, at 10 a.m., will include 600-plus lots of toys, trains and toy soldiers.

An original oil on canvas painting by marine artist Antonio Jacobsen (N.Y./N.J., 1850-1921),as well as other maritime-related items and material from the Bushnell and Kulukundus estates (ocean liner-related signs, prints, photos and souvenir items) will be part of the auction.

A few of the expected top lots include a 19th century William Demuth Punch cigar store advertising figure; a jump suit worn by a driver at the first Indianapolis 500 car race, in 1911; a program from the first game played at Yankee Stadium, in 1923; a rare Montauk, N.Y., poster; and a goalie stick signed by players from the 1953-54 Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings.

The Titanic lots will be offered on Friday, March 2, along with additional Titanic memorabilia, plus an original oil painting by marine artist Antonio Jacobsen (N.Y./N.J., 1850-1921); other maritime-related items; material from the Bushnell and Kulukundus estates (ocean liner-related signs, prints, photos and souvenir items); and many transportation items. Internet bidding will be facilitated by Proxibid. Phone and absentee bids will also be accepted.

For more information about this auction, call 516.594.0731, e-mail to or visit the Philip Weiss Auctions website.


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