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More than 2,000 people were aboard the Titanic when it struck an iceberg and sank.
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Lake County Museum / Corbis
Bandleader Wallace Henry Hartley played this violin to try to keep passengers calm as the Titanic sank.
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Peter Muhly / AFP /
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The Titanic sank on its first trip at sea.
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Jim McMahon
A Titanic Treasure
A violin played on the Titanic the night the ship sank sells for more than $1.7 million

By Jennifer Marino Walters | for  

On April 14, 1912, the R.M.S. Titanic—the largest ship in the world at the time—sank on its first trip at sea. Now, the famous cruise ship is making history again: A musical instrument recovered after the tragedy recently sold for more than $1.7 million!

More than 2,000 people were aboard when the Titanic sank. Some of the wealthiest people in the world were traveling in the ship’s luxury cabins. Hundreds of people were also on their way to America to immigrate (permanently move elsewhere from one’s home country), and were hoping for a better life. But as all these passengers rushed toward lifeboats, eight musicians remained calm. Led by bandleader Wallace Henry Hartley, they played music in an attempt to stop the panic. All eight men died when the ship sank, along with nearly 1,500 other passengers and crewmembers.

The violin Hartley played as the Titanic went down became a symbol of courage and strength. On October 19, it was sold at an auction in the United Kingdom at more than double the amount auctioneers had expected. The pricey purchase set a world record for any single Titanic artifact ever bought.


The battered violin, now unplayable, was a gift to Hartley from his fiancée, Maria Robinson. The words For Wallace, on the occasion of our engagement. From Maria are engraved on a silver plate on the instrument.

The violin was later returned to Robinson, and after she died in 1939, her sister donated it to a local Salvation Army branch. A violin teacher who was a member of the Salvation Army got it and passed it on to a student named Eve, the last owner’s mother. The violin was found in that owner’s attic in 2006.

For the past seven years, scientists, forensic experts, and historians have done extensive research and tests on the violin to make sure it is authentic. They determined “beyond a reasonable doubt” that it is indeed the violin Hartley played on that fateful night.

“In my 20 years as an auctioneer, I can honestly say I don’t think any article has made people show as much emotion as this one,” Andrew Aldridge of Henry Aldridge & Son, the auction house that sold the violin, told reporters. “People pick it up and start crying.”


Hundreds of thousands of people went to see the violin when it was exhibited earlier this year in Missouri, Texas, and England. It then was put up for sale at the auction, where it sold in about 10 minutes to an anonymous collector of Titanic items.

“[Hartley and his band] played until the bitter end, and it was an incredibly brave act,” says Aldridge. “It represents everything good about people.”