The body of band master Wallace Hartley was pulled from the icy water, supposedly with his violin strapped to his chest. But by the time his personal effects were itemized in Nova Scotia, where the bodies were taken by a search crew, the violin had disappeared.
Now that violin--if it's proved genuine--is going up for auction.
Final scientific tests are underway to prove the item is in fact Hartley's instrument, but according to the Daily Mail, experts believe it is genuine, and will sell for record price when it is auctioned on April 20 by Titanic experts Henry Aldridge and Son of Wiltshire, England.
Results from the last of more than seven years of authenticating tests are due next month.
Of the eight band members who continued to play as the ship went down, only the bodies of Hartley and two others were recovered. Newspaper reports at the time wrote Hartley had been found with his violin, but the Office of the Provincial Secretary in Nova Scotia made no mention of the instrument.
The record shows Hartley had on him spare change, a ring, pen, silver matchbox, gold cigar holder, watch and chain, collar stud and a pair of scissors, and was fully dressed. Titanic scholars assumed the violin had been stolen or lost by someone collecting the corpses in Nova Scotia.
The violin was given to the auctioneers by an anonymous seller claiming it had been a gift from Maria Robinson, Hartley's fiance, who had retrieved the violin after his death.
Robinson moved to the seaside resort of Bridlington after the sinking and never remarried. She died in 1939.
A diary kept by Robinson is among the key evidence to identifying Hartley's violin, as it includes a draft letter to the authorities in Nova Scotia, thanking them for sending the violin to her.
It reads: "I would be most grateful if you could convey my heartfelt thanks to all who have made possible the return of my late fiance’s violin. May I take this opportunity to express my appreciation to you personally for your gracious intervention on my behalf."
Steve Turner, author of the book The Band that Played On, said the name in her diary corresponds closely to the name of the provincial secretary on record.
Even more convincing is the inscription on the violin's tail piece: "For Wallace on the occasion of our engagement from Maria."
"This seemed not only to explain why she wanted it back so badly," Turner said, "and why it didn't automatically go to Hartley's parents, but perhaps why Hartley kept it with him in the water."
Auctioneer Henry Aldridge previously said he was hopeful the violin would prove genuine.
"When I first saw it five years ago I was amazed," he said. "If I did not think that the probability was there I would not have bothered."
"The research is expensive business but because of the historical importance of this item the money is secondary. We cannot rush the scientists."
Another item from the Titanic--a plan of the ship used in the inquiry--sold for more than $340,000 in 2011. Hartley's violin is expected to exceed, or even double that price.