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Violin famed for its role as Titanic sank fetches record at auction

A violin that became part of Titanic lore has fetched a record sum at auction. The instrument was apparently played by the bandmaster Wallace Hartley to calm passengers as the Titanic sank.

Within 10 minutes of the auction's starting, the violin sold for 1.05 million pounds ($1.7 million, 1.24 million euros), including premiums to the house - a record price after a fierce contest between two telephone bidders through the Titanic specialist house Henry Aldridge and Son. Bidding had started at just 50 pounds for the violin.

"We're absolutely overjoyed," Christine Aldridge, a spokeswoman for the auction house, told the news agency AFP. "It was sold to a UK collector who was bidding by telephone. The whole sale only took about 10 minutes."

Wallace Hartley's band played the hymn "Nearer, My God, to Thee" to try to calm passengers while they climbed into lifeboats as the Titanic sank beneath the icy waves in the North Atlantic on April 15, 1912, after hitting an iceberg. Hartley and his seven fellow band members died after choosing to play on. In all, the tragedy claimed 1,500 lives.

The German-made violin bore an inscription from Hartley's fiancee, Maria Robinson: "For Wallace on the occasion of our engagement from Maria." It went on sale with its leather luggage case, initialed W.H.H.

After the ship sank, a search team reportedly discovered the violin still strapped to its master. It reportedly reappeared in 2006 in an attic in the English county of Yorkshire, though heated debate ensued over its authenticity before experts cited years of tests in giving the go-ahead for the violin to go to auction. The previous known auction record related to the mighty ship hit 220,000 pounds in 2011 for a plan of the doomed vessel.

mkg/rc (AFP, dpa, AP)