Anyone devoted to collecting Titanic memorabilia would have loved the Henry Aldridge & Son auction that took place in Wiltshire, on April 21, 2018. A menu said to have been used for the first meals offered on board the Ship of Dreams went for roughly $140,000 (£100,000), quite close to the higher set margin of the pre-estimated sum for the auction, which said the menu could reach between $114,000 and $142,500. Other items that fetched high prices included a badge that belonged to a third-class steward who worked on the RMS Titanic and a letter written on board the ship by a second-class passenger and survivor whose final destination of the cross-Atlantic journey was San Diego.
The menu that made auction news belonged to Charles Lightoller, the second officer in command of the ill-fated ocean liner, and the crew member of the highest rank that survived the maritime disaster. The menu is a rare copy, said to be only one of two copies saved of its kind. The front side of it reveals letters inscribing R.M.S. “Titanic” as well as the White Star Line logo and that of the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company.
The lunch for which the menu was used occurred on April 2, 1912, when the Titanic was on its trials at sea, and only a few days before finally departing to the United States. Some of the fancy options on the menu have included Cream of Chicken, Spring Lamb, and Pudding Sans Souci.
The RMS Titanic had still not left Belfast on April 1, the date when her sea trials were originally scheduled. Bad weather postponed the trials for the day after, April 2, starting from 10.00 A.M. and little over a week before the ship’s scheduled maiden journey from Southampton. During the sea trials, in all its splendor, the ship would have been passengers-free, with just 78 people on board, including officers, senior members of the crew, as well as the cooks, who as you might easily imagine, prepared some of the first dishes, as listed on the menu dated April 2.
Not all trials for the day were completed before lunchtime. As the Belfast Telegraph wrote, after crew members enjoyed a meal in the main dining saloon, the ocean liner still needed to go through its major stopping test. The ship also picked up some last-minute cargo after that, and at about 8.00 P.M. that day left Belfast for Southampton for its first and final time. Lightoller obviously kept a copy of the menu and handed it to his spouse Sylvia as a gift before the Titanic ultimately sailed to New York on April 10.
However, this is not the first time the menu has appeared at an auction. Reportedly it first appeared at Sotheby’s back in 2003 when it was authorized by heirs of Lightoller. The second of the two such existing menus have belonged to Harold Lowe, the fifth officer on board the ship. This copy, too, has appeared on auction in the past, and with its strip missing at the bottom it still fetched reportedly around $38,000 at Aldridge in 2004.
Andrew Aldridge from the auction house has expressed his delight over the most recent auction, nonetheless. The success of the items sales “illustrates the ongoing fascination with the story of the Titanic,” he said to the BBC. He further remarked that collectors showed up from all around the world. The rare menu that was saved, thanks to Lightoller, has reportedly been sold to a collector from Britain, but no further details about the buyer have been revealed.
The menu has been praised not only for its association with the lavish ship and one of its high-ranking officials but, as Aldridge remarked, also because it is an item of interest to everyone who fancies fine dining or simply cherish “iconic objects.”
At the same auction, a badge belonging to a third-class steward at the Titanic named Thomas Mullin, who lost his life amid the ship’s sinking, also reached a high price of approximately $77,500. The badge has been first handed to Henry Aldridge & Son in 2004 by a family member of Mullin. The same 2004 collector who purchased the item back then, reportedly now consigned it for the April 2018 auction.
A Titanic letter from a passenger called Kate Buss also fetched a significant sum of almost $35,000. The letter, handwritten on four pages of official Titanic stationery–reading the date of April 10, 1912, when the liner departed Southampton’s port–praises the ship’s apartment as “really magnificent.”
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In the letter, Buss also mentions some of the other passengers. Her handwriting survives as the letter was dispatched in Ireland where the Titanic made a quick stop, therefore it was not on board when the liner hit an iceberg roughly 400 miles off the coast of Newfoundland, a tragedy which claimed some 1,500 lives and has remained embedded in our collective memory ever since.