Auction review: Titanic letter breaks world record, sells for £126,000

unique letter written by a first-class passenger aboard the Titanic before being recovered from his body has sold for £126,000—a new world record for a Titanic letter—at an auction by Wiltshire’s Henry Aldridge & Son.

The letter was written on oversized, embossed Titanic stationery by Alexander Oskar Holverson, who was planning to mail the correspondence to his mother on April 13, 1912. It was written only a day before the ship struck an iceberg on her maiden voyage across the Atlantic Ocean.

“Holverson’’s intent would have been to post the letter in New York,” said auctioneer Andrew Aldridge, who added the letter represents one of the last known letters to have survived the fateful sinking of the Titanic and the last known letter written onboard by a victim.

““Since it was recovered from Holverson’’s body, he obviously had still hoped to be able to send it on to his mother from New York. “As she received it after the ship foundered this may be the only on-board letter written by a victim and delivered to its recipient without postage to date.”

Oscar Holverson and his wife Mary Alice onboard a ship in the New York harbour. (Photo by Henry Aldridge & Son)


Selling for £126,000 (about $210,230 Cdn.), the lot set a new world record for a Titanic letter.

“I’m delighted with the new world record for the Titanic letter,” said Aldridge. “It reflects its status as the most important Titanic letter that we have ever auctioned.”

The letter is of bifold format, unsigned and written on three of its four pages. It bears the embossed red White Star Line burgee and is headed “On board R-M-S Titanic” in navy blue. Holverson dates the letter in the heading April 13, 1912, with the “191” pre-printed in navy blue. Each page bears a White Star Line five-pointed star logo watermark (not the more common Spartan soldier) and measures seven inches by nine inches when closed, making this the largest-known format for any on-board Titanic letterhead. For this example, this letter size was virtually unknown, according to auctioneers.

The letter reads in part as follows: “This boat is giant in size and fitted up like a palacial hotel … If all goes well we will arrive in New York Wednesday A.M. I am sending you a postcard of the ship and also a book of postcards showing the inside. … Mate had a letter from Mr. Berry at Buenos Aires which stated that she was getting on fine. … Mr. and Mrs. John Jacob Astor is on this ship. He looks like any other human being even tho he has millions of money. They sit out on deck with the rest of us.”

This lot was accompanied by an original large photograph—five inches by nine inches—of Holverson and his wife, Mary Alice. It is hand-captioned on verso, “Dec 1911 Mary Alice Holverson, Oscar Alexander Holverson leaving for South America previous to the Titanic.” The photo shows the couple on the deck of a ship in New York harbour. Also included in the lot were some unrelated handwritten letters from Holverson’s mother to his brother, Walter.

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