The instrument belonged to Wallace Hartley, and was found in its case, strapped to Hartley's chest when his body was recovered in the days following the April 15, 1912 sinking. It disappeared for nearly a century, believed to have been stolen or lost by someone working at the Nova Scotia site where many of the ship's victims were taken.
In 2006, the violin resurfaced in the attic of a home in Britain. Following extensive authentication testing, including saltwater deposits and searches of historical records, historians determined the violin was the real deal. An inscription reading "For Wallace, on the occasion of our engagement. From Maria," was key, as Hartley's violin was indeed a gift from his fiancée, Maria Robinson.
“It was an exceptional price for an exceptional item,” said Andrew Aldridge, a surveyor at Henry Aldridge & Son, the auction house that sold the violin.
The £1.1 million price, which includes the buyer's premium and tax, is the highest ever for a piece of memorabilia from the ill-fated ship.
Part of the fascination comes from the scene, reproduced in the 1997 blockbuster Titanic, in which the band continued to play as the ship sank in an attempt to keep passengers calm. While the choice of tune, "Nearer, My God, to Thee," is something of an urban legend, that the band played on is indeed a true story.
"What they were doing was actually causing a sense of calm on that ship," said Craig Sopin, who helped authenticate the violin. "You could only wonder the mass pandemonium that would have occurred otherwise. It helped save a lot of lives."
"This figure is going to be hard to beat," Sopin said. "I can't think of anything else that is more iconic to come off that ship."