Wednesday, May 10, 2006

 

Titanic artifacts emerge thanks to 'holders'

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Delaware online
By Mary Jordan
May 08, 2006


BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- Ebenezer Savage, who is nothing like his name, walked into the Titanic memorabilia room in City Hall at about 2:30 p.m. with a bulging green plastic grocery bag.

"Would you be interested in having a look at these?" said Savage, 72, opening it and pulling out a few cherished items.

"Only too pleased," replied Andrew Aldridge, an appraiser in a dark suit.

Around the two men, in glass exhibition cases fitted with alarms, were collector's items related to the Titanic: a first-class menu, a survivor's oval locket, a piece of wood from the ship found frozen to a victim.

During the exhibition, several thousand people a day filed past the cases. Most paid no attention to the small table in the corner where Aldridge sat waiting for Titanic artifacts to find their way to him. Here in the ship's home town, you never know what gem might emerge after nearly a century, forgotten in some musty attic or found at a yard sale.

The city of Belfast had long shunned its connection to the world's most famous shipwreck. But it has now dived headlong into promoting it. A new waterfront development is to be called the Titanic Quarter, and T-shirts proclaim, "She was fine when she left here."

Savage, a retired civil servant who describes himself as "an ordinary chap," pulled out an album of black-and-white photos and handed it to Aldridge, who began scanning the snapshots, noting the 1910s fashion of the family posing for the camera. Promising.

He turned the page and fixed on a photo that lit him up: the Titanic sailing out of the docks in 1912, just a few blocks from City Hall.

The appraiser's verdict: At auction, the album could fetch between $700 and $1,200.

"Don't tell the tax man!" said a delighted Savage.

Savage, who insists that everyone call him Ebbie, is a collector -- "a holder" is how he described his life's passion.

Until recently, he held 18,000 postcards, carefully chosen after patiently sifting through others' castoffs.

"Oh, the thrill of an auction!" he said, beaming. "Every time you went to an auction there was something there you wanted, something special." It was a joy, he said, to carry the latest acquisition to his "glory room," the room at home that is all his.

Nonetheless, now that he has passed 70, he has begun to sell many of the things he spent a lifetime acquiring and admiring. He is selling 2,000 books now, and most of the postcards are gone. "If something happens to me, the wife might throw them in the bin," he said, with his infectious chuckle.

Their only daughter, Sharon, died of cancer when she was just 17, but already she'd begun following after her father. "She was a holder, too," he said quietly. "It's in the blood."

Aldridge smiled at Savage, who decided to entrust his photo album and two 84-year-old Titanic postcards to him for an auction. Savage folded his old maps of the Belfast docks where the ship was built, a 1912 newspaper detailing passengers on the doomed ocean liner and other collectibles into his plastic bag to return home.

Besides Savage and Aldridge, Richard May, the grandson of a Titanic survivor, was in the grand domed room. He looked over a letter his grandfather had written on board, which he had lent to the exhibition. Interested buyers asked Aldridge about prices.

"Excuse the pun," Aldridge said, "but the market for Titanic material is buoyant."


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