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Titanic collection to be auctioned in April

Items as small as a hairpin and as big as a chunk of the Titanic's hull are among 5,000 artifacts from the world's most famous shipwreck that will be auctioned in April.

Nearly a century after the April 15, 1912, sinking of the ocean liner after it hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic, an auction is being readied by Guernsey's Auctioneers & Brokers in Manhattan.

That auction house has garnered headlines in the past by selling off such historical curiosities as prized Beatles photos, famous jewels of the late Princess Diana, beloved Jerry Garcia guitars and a police motorcycle used in the Texas motorcade when John F. Kennedy was slain. But nothing as titanic as the "Titanic collection."

On April 11, all of the salvaged items are to be sold as one lot in what Guernsey's president Arlan Ettinger describes as the most significant auction ever handled by that house. "Who on this planet doesn't know the story of the Titanic and isn't fascinated by it?" he asked.

The auction will be conducted 100 years plus a day after the Titanic set sail from Southampton, England, embarking on the ill-fated maiden voyage, bound for New York.

The collection was appraised in 2007 at $189 million, including some intellectual property alongside the myriad items plucked by remote controlled probes from the pitch-black depths, some 2 1/2 miles below the ocean's surface.

Those artifacts include the massive hull section called "The Big Piece" as well as personal belongings of passengers and crew, such as a mesh purse and eyeglasses. A bronze cherub that once adorned the Grand Staircase also is among the collection, as are fine china, table settings, bottles and ship fittings -- even the stand upon which the ship's wheel stood.

By court order, the items cannot be sold individually and must go to a buyer who agrees to properly maintain the collection and make it available for occasional public viewing. The sale is subject to court approval. The artifacts were salvaged by RMS Titanic Inc.

The planned sale also could include a trove of archaeological data and visuals of the wreck, as well as the only detailed map of the vast ocean floor where all the artifacts were scattered when the ship sank.

The Titanic's sinking claimed the lives of more than 1,500 of the 2,228 passengers and crew. An international team led by oceanographer Robert Ballard located the wreckage in 1985, about 400 miles off Newfoundland, Canada.

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