April 27, 2012 / 4:43 PM / 6 years ago

Titanic band leader's final letter sells for $154,974

LITTLETON, New Hampshire (Reuters) - A letter written by the British bandleader on the Titanic to his parents in England five-days before the ship struck an iceberg and sank a century ago sold for nearly $155,000 in an online auction on Thursday.

A general view of the dock in East Belfast where the Titanic was built. January 17, 2012. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

An unnamed U.S. investment group bought the letter written by Wallace Hartley, 33, who led the ship’s eight-piece band, which played ragtime and other tunes to calm the passengers as the ship slowly slipped beneath the waves of the north Atlantic.

“It was a microcosm of the whole tragedy,” Bobby Livingston, an executive with New Hampshire-based RR Auction which handled the sale, said about the letter.

“There was the hope he was going to see his parents again,” he added in an interview.

Hartley mailed the letter on April 11, 1912 during the ship’s stop in Queenstown, Ireland, according to Livingston. The Titanic sank in the early hours of April 15 on its maiden voyage from England with the loss of 1,517 lives.

“We have a fine band and the boys seem very nice,” Hartley wrote in the letter, promising to see his parents the following Sunday when he returned.

“This is a fine ship and we ought to have plenty of money on her,” he added on the letterhead paper inscribed “On board R.M.S. Titanic.”

The 180 lots in the auction sold for more than $600,000. Other items included a silver certificate from the pocket of the head barber who survived the tragedy. It fetched $39,402.

Another letter on ship stationery from a survivor in first class sold for $35,193 and a small salvaged piece of the ship’s grand staircase grand staircase had a $15,800 price tag.

Livingston said tips were the major source of income for Hartley and other shipboard musicians. Money in various currencies was found on Hartley’s body, still dressed in bandleader’s uniform, when it was recovered in the Atlantic more than two weeks after the tragedy.

The letter, which was sold by an anonymous Canadian collector, fetched $2,431 at auction in 1981. Thursday’s sale price tops the $87,000 paid in 2004 for a letter written on board the Titanic by Father Thomas Byles, a Catholic priest.

Editing by Patricia Reaney

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