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Titanic survivors’ gold cigarette case to auction at Hanson’s

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2018-08-21

The case is expected to sell for up to $77,000 at hanson's Auctioneers on September 28
The case is expected to sell for up to $77,000 at Hanson's Auctioneers on September 28 (Image: Hanson's)

A gold cigarette case owned by two of the Titanic’s most famous survivors, Sir Cosmo and Lady Duff-Gordon, is heading for auction in the U.K next month.

The couple gave the case as a gift to Ernest Brown, the purser on the SS Carpathia, a steamship which rescued survivors of the tragedy in April 1912.

It was recently rediscovered during a house clearance, and is now expected to fetch £40,000 – £60,000 when it goes up for sale at Hanson’s Auctioneers in Derbyshire on September 28.

“This cigarette case in its own right is a wonderful object but its provenance sends its importance soaring to titanic heights,” said Charles Hanson, owner of Hansons Auctioneers. “Titanic collectors all over the world may well be interested in bidding for this.”

Sir Cosmo and Lady Duff-Gordon were travelling in First Class to New York during the ill-fated ocean liner’s maiden voyage.

As the first internationally-known fashion designer of the period, Lady Duff-Gordon was amongst the most famous figures aboard the Titanic.

The couple had in fact booked their first-class tickets under the names ‘Mr. and Mrs. Morgan’ to avoid publicity when they landed in New York.

But it was in the aftermath of the disaster that the couple became more famous – or infamous – than they could ever have imagined.

They escaped the sinking liner along with their maid Laura Francatelli on Lifeboat #1, along with two further survivors and seven crew members – despite the boat being designed to hold up to 40 people.

As they watched the Titanic sink in the distance, Lady Duff-Gordon was reported to remark to Francatelli “There is your beautiful nightdress gone”.

The comment angered to crewmen, who suggested that they had just lost everything they owned, and Sir Cosmo responded by offering them each £5 to aid them when they returned to dry land.

When they were safely aboard the Carpathia he then wrote each of the men a cheque – and rumour quickly spread that he had in fact bribed them to leave the scene without picking up other survivors, who may have swamped the lifeboat.

The British press latched on to the story, accusing the couple of using their wealth to survive, and Lifeboat #1 was dubbed ‘The Money Boat’.

“In the aftermath of the tragedy, the couple were accused of buying their way off the boat, a story inflamed by the tabloid press,” said Hanson.

“But at a British Board of Trade inquiry into the disaster, where the couple testified, Sir Cosmo was adamant he’d given the money as a gesture of goodwill to help the men. However, mud sticks and they were tainted by the incident for the rest of their lives.”

In 2015, a letter written by Lady Duff-Gordon during the inquiry into the sinking sold at RR Auction in Boston for almost $12,000.

The letter to a close friend revealed how the controversy had personally affected her, and included the line “According to the way we’ve been treated by England on our return we didn’t seem to have done the right thing in being saved at all!!!!”

Despite their treatment, the couple always remembered the help they received from Brown when they were rescued, and sent him the gold Asprey case inscribed with the message:

“Ernest G F Brown RNR, in remembrance of kindness. SS Carpathia. From Sir Cosmo and Lady Duff-Gordon”.

Earlier this month, the gold medal awarded to Brown for his efforts during the rescue operation sold at the Bourne End Auction House in Buckinghamshire for a record price of £45,000 ($58,000).


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