Memorabilia connected to the Titanic often manages to exceed expectations at auction, with items reaching higher and higher bids with each passing decade. It’s been over a century since the ship of dreams sank in the cold waters of the North Atlantic, and interest in such items is still great.
October 2017 marks the month of a new Titanic milestone, as the last known letter written on the ship, and penned by a victim of the maritime disaster named Alexander Oskar Holverson, topped previous correspondence sales with a final bid of $166,000.
Hundreds of passengers lost their lives when the lavish ship sank in the ocean on the early morning of April 15, 1912. Only a small portion of the bodies were retrieved from the waters. Holverson’s body was found days after the tragedy.
Along with the body, several of his personal belongings were retrieved, including a gold watch, a gold tie clip, a solitaire diamond ring, fountain pen, and a pocketbook in which the water-stained letter was found, among other items. All of these possessions were sent to one of Alexander’s six siblings.
The letter, dated a day before the disaster unfolded, was written on White Star Line stationery, aboard the Titanic, and it was supposed to be delivered to his mother. When placed on auction at Wiltshire’s Henry Aldridge & Son, in Devizes, Wiltshire, the letter hit a record $166,000 bid on October 21, 2017. One line read, “If all goes well we’ll arrive in New York on Wednesday A.M,” which of course never happened.
Titanic passenger’s final letter sold at record price
The bidding for the letter went beyond the initial estimated worth of the item of around $105,000. In it, Holverson described the ship’s lavishness, commenting that the “food and music is excellent” and also writing that “so far we have had very good weather.”
The bid of $166,000 for the authentic Titanic memorabilia pleased auctioneer Andrew Aldridge, who remarked that Holverson’s letter was “exceptional on several levels, including content, historical context, and rarity.” He also described the item “as the most important Titanic letter we have ever auctioned.”
The letter’s new owner was also able to take home a mournful note penned by Holverson’s mother, Rachel, which depicts her sadness over the loss of her son. One more accompanying item: a photo of the first class passenger and his spouse, Mary, captioned in New York right before the two commenced on a voyage, first to South America and then to Europe. Alexander’s wife, Mary, was one of Titanic‘s survivors.
From what is known about Holverson, he was a successful salesman. He had come to live in New York around 1909, and his job required frequent travel. With his wife, Alexander had left New York at the end of 1911 on a holiday, reportedly staying in Buenos Aires before sailing to England. There they were accommodated at London’s Piccadilly Hotel and had then headed to Southampton, where they joined the Titanic as first class passengers, to complete the last leg of their journey.
Holverson’s letter is certainly not the first instance of Titanic-related memorabilia hitting the headlines. The previous Titanic letter record was set in 2015, when a letter penned on April 14, 1912, by another passenger named Esther Hart sold for $156,000. Later that evening onboard the ship, several hours after writing the letter, Hart became a survivor of the tragedy along with her daughter Eva, who was only seven at the time. The highest bid on Holverson’s letter surpassed the sum for Hart’s letter by roughly $10,000.
Back in 2008, Millvina Dean, who became famous as one of the oldest Titanic survivors, sold some of her memorabilia at auctions. Her situation was different, as, at 96, she used the money from the sale to pay health bills. Reportedly, Dean’s Titanic memorabilia had included a letter sent to her mother by the Titanic Relief Fund, as well as a suitcase that the family was given in New York following the sinking and rescue action. The sale of these items raised around $41,570.