PROVIDENCE, R.I. — A Titanic survivor’s walking stick, with an electric light she used to signal for help from a lifeboat, is one of thousands of maritime items that will be up for auction in Rhode Island.
Guernsey’s auction house is holding the auction at the International Yacht Restoration School in Newport on July 19 and 20. Guernsey’s President Arlan Ettinger described Ella White’s cane as one of the most extraordinary items to have survived the sinking.
“It’s a fabled object and Titanic enthusiasts have certainly heard of it,” he said. “Most didn’t know it has survived. The family didn’t do anything to promote it, so it’s a very exciting discovery.”
The walking stick was consigned to Guernsey’s by the Williams family in Milford, Connecticut.
Brad Williams said his grandmother was White’s niece and cared for her affairs before she died in 1942 at the age of 85, then took possession of the walking stick. It was passed on to Williams’ mother, then to him.
Williams, a 59-year-old cane collector, kept it in an umbrella stand with about 35 other canes. He said he wants it to go to a home where it will be better displayed, and use the proceeds for his children. It’s obviously the most famous cane in the collection, he said.
“It’s family history so I do I have trepidation about parting with it, but I also have to pay for college,” said Williams, who runs a boat repair business in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
The pre-auction estimate is $300,000 to $500,000, though Ettinger said it’s very hard to predict what it might fetch because it’s such an unprecedented artifact. A violin played by the Titanic’s bandleader as the ship sank sold at auction in 2013 for about $1.7 million.
On the night of April 14, 1912, the British liner RMS Titanic collided with an iceberg in the North Atlantic and began sinking. The ship went under two hours and 40 minutes later and more than 1,500 people died.
In Walter Lord’s book about the Titanic and in investigative hearings after the sinking, it’s documented that White appointed herself as a signalman for lifeboat 8, waving her walking stick about.
Guernsey’s will have other Titanic items for sale, but the walking stick is clearly the most noteworthy item and the auction house has verified its authenticity, Ettinger said. It’s a black enameled stick with an amber-colored bakelite and battery-illuminated crown. Williams said it still lights up.
”Things don’t usually stay protected in this way. Objects get misplaced, lost, forgotten about, thrown out, traded,” Ettinger said. “This most historic walking stick stayed in that family’s hands and it will be sold for the first time in more than 100 years.”
The 700-lot “A Century at Sea” auction also includes paintings by well-known marine artists, wooden boats, hand-crafted ship models and items from a wide array of other noteworthy ships, including the RMS Lusitania, the SS Normandie, SS Andrea Doria and SS United States. Gold, pearls and emeralds from two 1600s Spanish shipwrecks, recovered by treasure hunter Mel Fisher, will be auctioned too.
It’s the first auction the New York-based auction house has held in Newport since 1988. The auction preview begins July 18 at the yacht restoration school, which prepares students for careers in technology and the marine trades.