By Josh Saunders
A Titanic victim’s silver and brass pocket watch could be sold for £15,000 ($20,000 USD) at auction – alongside an electric chair, guillotine and more at auction.
The treasured timepiece belonged to Sinai Kantor, aged 34, who was travelling with his wife Miriam to start a new life in America when the ‘unsinkable ship’ tragically hit an iceberg on April 12, 1912.
While Miriam, then 24, survived after being rushed into a ‘women and children’s first’ lifeboat, her husband’s body would be retrieved during an eight-day recovery operation.
The pocket-watch was handed through the generations until now, 106 years on, when it will be appearing in Heritage’s American & Political Auction in Dallas, Texas, USA, concluding August 26.
The Swiss-made open-face piece has numerals in Hebrew and on the back an embossing of Moses holding the Ten Commandments.
The original movement of the pocket-watch is rusted due to the immersion in sea water, the hands are nearly all deteriorated and the dial is stained.
Don Ackerman, Heritage Auctions Historical Consignment Director, said: “The sinking of the RMS Titanic is one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century.
“The family passed the watch down through generations for 106 years.
“A piece that was aboard the ship and a documented history from the family makes this a bittersweet and really rare opportunity for collectors.
“We have handled some Titanic material before, but this is a very personal type of item and it tells a story.
“Just looking at it, you know it’s not just something that been sitting in someone’s attic or drawer for a while, it’s a very graphic object.
“Women and children were first to get on the lifeboats, so Miriam got into lifeboat 12 and she survived, most of the men went down with the ship.
“The Titanic went down at 1.20 in the morning, so I don’t know if the watch worked for a while after, but you could speculate it stopped then.
“There’s been a continued interest by the public in the Titanic for quite a while, there have been movies made about it, but the fascination has not abated at all.”
When Russian immigrants Miriam and Sinai Kantor, aged 24 and 34, departed from the Southampton port in April 1912, they envisioned new beginnings, not tragedy.
Destined for the Bronx, New York, the couple who had paid £26 for second class ticket 244367, upon reaching land planned to study dentistry and medicine.
Sinai who was a furrier intended to sell trunks of furs to fund their education dreams, but on April 12, those plans were shattered when the ‘unsinkable ship’ collided with an iceberg.
Miriam was taken to lifeboat 12, which had a strict ‘women and children first’ protocol – while initially it was loaded with 30 survivors, they made room to fit double that number.
Over a week later, the body of Sinai, labelled ‘No. 283’ was retrieved from the icy waters by crew from the CS Mackay-Bennet.
On the ship he was embalmed and later buried at Mount Zion Cemetery in Queens, New York.
After extensive legal effort, Miriam was able to retrieve the belongings of her husband including Kantor’s Russian passport, a notebook, money, wallets, a ‘silver watch,’ a telescope and corkscrew – on May 24, 1912
Don said: “The man who owned the pocket watch was a Jewish Russian immigrant. He was a second-class passenger on the Titanic.
“It’s not an expensive watch, it’s silver plated brass watch.
“The guy probably didn’t have a whole lot of money, so it was something he could afford that cherished his Jewish identity and appealed to him.”
Handed down from generation to generation, the swiss watch is now up for sale in the American & Political Auction with Heritage Auctions in Dallas, Texas, USA, concluding August 25-26.
Don said: “The background story to something like this adds to the value.
“It would be a little nicer if the hands hadn’t rusted off and you could see what time they stopped working.
“But sometimes the imperfections add to the value, if it was in perfect condition people would question it.”
Also, up for auction, the only ever guillotine offered in America that has a near three stone (40lb) blade is estimated to fetch £18,000 ($24,000).
The heavy stained-hardwood and metal execution device was believed to have been used in either France or one of the French colonies during the first quarter of the 20th Century.
An electric chair from Pennsylvania Penitentiary in 1940 is also up for grabs.
The original consignor obtained it from a retired prison guard, after the penitentiary decided to replace it – currently the piece has an opening bid for £8,000 ($10,000).
Don said: “These are not items you normally see at auction. It’s very unusual.
“Somethings like this belong in a museum, but there are also some collectors who have peculiar subject matter they deal in but may not advertise to their friends.
“They may keep it in the back room, so maybe somebody out there who likes things related to the penal system or has a ‘torture chamber.’”
A display showing the first successful nuclear fission experiment at the University of Chicago, holds an opening bid of £5,800 ($7,500) – this innovation would go onto develop the atomic bomb.
The test took place on the squash court on the lower level of a school with scientists and a Geiger counter.
It was there that they recognised the free additional neutrons from the experiment had been caused by the reaction.
Don said: “This is a very historic item and one a kind.
“You would have thought it would be a huge explosion, but it was done with an extremely small amount of material and the scientists were able to detect it.
“They basically did the experiment expecting a certain reaction that they could then prove that occurred.
“This was a little, tiny baby step, but it was a breakthrough that led to the atomic bomb and everything associated with it.
“It’s historically important no matter of your nationality. It’s interesting, graphic and you won’t see another of these. It’s something that’s noteworthy.”
These feature alongside a highly significant 1844 Flag for James K. Polk and George Dallas, one of the largest political flags ever made, bearing a £157,000 ($200,000) estimate.
A rare official White House Presidential flag used for parts of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s administration and John F. Kennedy, carries a $15,000 ($20,000) estimate.
For more information or to bid visit: www.ha.com