The violin reputedly played by the Titanic’s bandmaster as the ill-fated liner sank is to go on public display in Belfast - the city where the ship was built.
Wallace Hartley has become part of the ship’s legend after leading his fellow musicians in playing as the ship went down, most famously the hymn Nearer My God To Thee.
Hartley and his seven fellow band members all died in the tragedy in 1912. His violin, which had been a gift from his fiancee Maria Robinson, was apparently found in a case strapped to his body when it was recovered from the icy Atlantic waters.
Its re-emergence in 2006, when it was reportedly discovered in an attic in Yorkshire, prompted heated debate over its authenticity.
Titanic specialist auctioneers Henry Aldridge and Son insist seven subsequent years of research and tests have proved it to be the genuine article.
Now the violin - accompanied by a leather luggage case initialed W. H. H. - is to go on display in Titanic Belfast, the multimillion-pound visitor attraction dedicated to the ship.
It will reside in the centre’s replica second-class accommodation suite from September 18 until October 13, 2013 before it goes up for public auction by Aldridge and Son in Wiltshire later that month.
Titanic Belfast chief executive Tim Husbands said: “We are honored and excited that Titanic Belfast has been chosen to display Wallace Hartley’s violin which he played on RMS Titanic.
“The violin was strapped to Wallace Hartley’s body when he was recovered, and it is a remarkable story that has brought it from the disaster scene to the birthplace of Titanic in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and to the world’s largest Titanic visitor experience.
“This could very well be a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity for visitors to see one of the world’s most famous and most valuable Titanic artifacts before it goes to auction.”
Andrew Aldridge, a valuer with the auctioneer, said: “The Wallace Hartley Titanic violin is one of the most iconic collectables from the 20th century.
“Bandleader Hartley was an incredibly brave man whose actions helped to calm passengers during Titanic’s last hours. The authentication process behind the collection has been a long and exhaustive one with some of the world’s leading experts in their respective fields helping to assemble a conclusive package of independent reports to accompany the archive. The auction of the violin and associated items will be on October 19 in Devizes, Wiltshire.
“The violin has attracted interest from collectors all over the world especially after its recent successful three month exhibition in the United States where in excess of 100,000 enthusiasts viewed it.
“This is the last time the violin will be seen in public prior to returning to Devizes for auction viewing and sale.”