What you see: A deck chair recovered from the ocean debris field of the Titanic after it sank in 1912. Henry Aldridge & Son sold it in April 2015 for just over £100,000, or about $150,000, setting a world auction record for a Titanic deck chair, and presumably any deck chair.
The expert: Andrew Aldridge, auctioneer.
I’m surprised that any deck chairs survived the wreck of the Titanic. How did it happen? It’s very straightforward. When any ship sinks, especially one that’s 46,000 tons and 883 feet long, there’s a lot of debris. The two main recovery ships were cable-layers that were redirected to pick up bodies. They also picked up a lot of flotsam and jetsam, not for souvenirs, but for recycling. The ship carpenter on the Mackay-Bennett would fashion something out of it [salvaged wood]. The Titanic would have had thousands of deck chairs, and they washed off the deck. They [the rescue ships] probably picked up 20 to 30 deck chairs. That small number narrows down to a handful today.
The Titanic did not have its own specific, distinctive deck chair. How do we know that this particular one was used on the Titanic and not another White Star Line vessel? They are generic deck chairs. What makes it is the provenance. [Period records show that the chair originally belonged to a French cable ship captain who was on board the Mackay-Bennett when it was diverted.] That’s one reason this chair is so desirable. To give you an example, the provenance package for this deck chair included a folder that stood an inch and a half high. You’re talking no more than a few deck chairs that could pass muster, in our opinion.
How many Titanic deck chairs have you handled? One. That shows you how rare they are.
Does it show evidence of having been in the water? There was some discoloration of the wood and oxidation of the fittings. Things like the fittings going green–you want to keep that. You don’t want to polish them to new. The conservator walked a tight line between keeping the patination and the age of it, but preserving it as well.
You’ve sold this deck chair twice, in 2001 and again in 2015. How do the two sales show how things have changed over time? In 2001 it sold for £33,500, which was then a record for a Titanic deck chair. It illustrates the difference in the market between 2001 and 2015. The one percent, the best of the best, the blue chip pieces have gone up.
When did the phrase ‘Shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic‘ enter pop culture? Certainly not right after the sinking? Possibly in the 1950s. She sank in 1912 and by 1913, 1914, she was old news. People were not interested in her for decades and decades. Only in the 1950s, with A Night to Remember, did people get interested in her again. I guess it entered pop culture after that.
Did you sit on it? No. I’m 16 stone [224 pounds]. It’s not sensible. But if you’re lighter than me, yes, you could. If I was 8 stone [112 pounds] I’d happily sit on it.
What do you remember of the auction? It was 25,000 lots ago, but there was a hell of a lot of interest in it. It got to £50,000 to £60,000 quick. We opened bidding with a new record for a Titanic deck chair.
Why does it stick in your memory? We were talking before about moving the deck chairs on the Titanic–that’s your answer, really. You don’t see an object like that every day.
There were so many spectacular ocean liners, but material from the Titanic is far and away the most collectible. Why are we still fascinated with that ship? Most people don’t care how long the Titanic was or how many tons she weighed. People care about people. There were 2,200 people on that ship and every man, woman, and child had a story to tell. That’s why we still talk about it.
Henry Aldridge & Son is on Instagram.
Henry Aldridge & Son‘s October 22, 2018 auction will include a Titanic travel poster that touts a return voyage that never had a chance to happen.
Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Henry Aldridge & Son.
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