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Historic titanic pocket watch fetches record $2m at auction

The watch was recovered from Astor’s body days after he died, when the Titanic hit an iceberg on April 14, 1912...

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Historic titanic pocket watch fetches record $2m at auction

Even before it sank, the RMS Titanic was a symbol of wealth and luxury. Today, it remains so, with many artifacts recovered from the wreckage the subject of bidding wars.

14-carat gold pocket watch formerly belonging to the Titanic’s richest passenger was auctioned in Wiltshire, England for £1.175 million (about C$2 million).

The auction house said the watch, engraved with the initials of its former owner, businessman John Jacob Astor IV, fetched the highest-ever price for a piece of Titanic memorabilia. The watch was recovered from Astor’s body days after he died, when the Titanic hit an iceberg on April 14, 1912.

Auctioneers Henry Aldridge & Son sold the pocket watch to an anonymous buyer from the U.S. for £900,000 (more than C$1.5 million), though taxes and fees pushed the purchase past the million-pound mark.

The watch was originally estimated to sell for between £100,000 (about C$171,500) and £150,000 (nearly C$257,300).

After it was retrieved from Astor’s body, the watch was restored and worn by his son Vincent, the auction house revealed.

Henry Aldridge & Son called the pocket watch “a unique part of the Titanic story and one of the most important pieces of horological history relating to the most famous ship in the world.”

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A copy of a baptismal certificate belonging to William Dobbyn V, Astor’s executive secretary, was included in the auction lot. Vincent’s signature is on the certificate.

The lot also included a copy of a letter from Astor’s second wife, who was on the Titanic with him, and a photograph copy of Vincent.

Who was John Jacob Astor?

Astor was an American business magnate, real estate developer, investor and writer. He is well-known as the Titanic’s richest passenger, and according to Henry Aldridge & Son, was thought to be among the richest people in the world in his era.

Astor, who was 47 years old when he died, boarded the Titanic alongside his second wife Madeleine Talmadge Force. He married Force shortly before boarding the doomed ship, when she was only 18 years old, making the couple subject to scandalous rumours at the time.

Henry Aldridge & Son said Astor helped his wife into Lifeboat 4 as the ship was sinking. When he asked to join Force and the other women and children onboard apparently citing Force’s “delicate condition”  an officer declined him entry.

Astor then tossed his gloves to Force and allegedly smoked a cigarette with author Jacques Futrelle.

Force would survive the Titanic’s sinking.

Astor was killed and his body was recovered eight days after the Titanic sunk. Henry Aldridge & Son said Astor was identified by the monogram sewn into the lapel of his jacket.

As well as the pocket watch, gold and diamond cufflinks, a diamond ring, a gold pencil, a pocketbook and British and American money were found on Astor’s body.

Astor’s net worth was estimated to be roughly US$87 million (equivalent to several billion dollars today), the auction house said.

About 1,500 people perished when the Titanic sank.

Many other artifacts from the Titanic have also gone under the hammer in recent years, including a skeleton key that was passed through four generations of a crew member’s family.

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