23 April 2010

Intimate Titanic Letter Fetches New Record

A letter from a first-class passenger on board the Titanic has fetched £55,000 at auction - a record price for a piece of written correspondence from the ship.

Henry Aldridge and Son/PA Wire

Some of the memorabilia sold at the auction

The piece was penned by Adolphe Saalfeld, on three sides of stationery from the doomed vessel, to his "wifey", Gertrude, still home in Britain.

His words give a rare glimpse into day-to-day life on the maiden voyage of the Titanic, which sank on April 15, 1912 with the loss of 1,517 lives after hitting an iceberg.

The letter was one of 350 lots of White Star Line memorabilia sold yesterday by auctioneer Henry Aldridge and Son, in Devizes, Wiltshire.

The letter, composed five days before the disaster, was sold to an unidentified museum in Britain, which has yet to formally announce its purchase.

Explaining the appeal of the artefact, Andrew Aldridge said: "The content is superb. It gives a real first person perspective of what life was like onboard, through the eyes of a first-class passenger, right down to the food, the size of the cabin and the decoration."

While other letters exist, this is the best example of its kind due to the depth of its detail, he explained.

Henry Aldridge and Son/PA Wire

Mr Saalfeld's intimate letter

The letter tells of Mr Saalfeld's approval of a "luncheon" featuring soup, fillet of plaice, a loin chop with cauliflower and fried potatoes, Apple Manhattan and Rocquefort cheese, "washed down with a large Spaten beer iced".

A partial transcript of the letter, released by the auctioneer reads: "After leaving [Southampton] at noon we had quite a little excitement, as the tremendous suction of our steamer made all the hawsers of the SS New York snap as we passed her and she drifted on to our boat, a collision being averted by our stopping & our tugs coming to the rescue of the 'New York'.

"The weather is calm and fine, the sky overcast. There are only 370 First Class passengers. So far the boat does not move and goes very steadily. It is not nice to travel alone and leave you behind. I think you will have to come next time.

"I had a long promenade and a doze for an hour up to 5 o'clock. The band played in the afternoon for tea, but I savour a cafe in the Verandah cafe with bread and butter and quite thought I should have to pay but anything and everything in the eating line is gratis.

Henry Aldridge and Son/PA Wire

Keys from a binocular box

"At 6 o'clock we anchor outside Cherbourg and two tugs with passengers came alongside. Owing to our little mishap at Southampton we were all one hour late and had dinner only at 7.30 instead of 7 o'clock as usual."

Mr Saalfeld, a German-born businessman who was en route to New York hoping to sell perfume concentrates, apparently name-dropped to good effect when it came to procuring a larger table at dinner.

"The name of my friend, the White Star manager in London, works wonders and I have a small table for two to myself. I made a very good dinner and had two cigars in the smoke room and shall now go to bed as I am tired. But for a slight vibration, you would not know that you are at sea."

Mr Saalfeld was apparently in the smoking parlour at the time of the collision and survived the sinking, having clambered into Lifeboat No. 3.

He later said there was sufficient time to save all on board - if enough lifeboats had been carried.

Henry Aldridge and Son/PA Wire

Retrieved photo of Rosa Abbott

Mr Saalfeld died in 1926 at Kew Gardens and is buried in London's Golders Green cemetery.

Another star of the sale was a set of keys belonging to an officer transferred from the Titanic at the last minute, which fetched £54,000.

The keys - bearing a brass tag engraved with the words "binocular box" - were kept by officer David Blair and would have been stored in a teak box on the bulwark of the bridge.

Mr Blair sailed with the ship from Belfast to Southampton, but was moved onto another ship at short notice, taking the bunch of keys with him - a move which may well have saved him.

Mr Aldridge said: "Mr Blair was without doubt one of the luckiest men alive because this decision almost certainly saved his life."

A set of photographs relating to the Titanic, her passengers and crew were sold to various collectors for over £100,000. One picture, of Rosa Abbott, who was pulled from the water, fetched £35,000 and went to a private collector

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