A pocket watch with Hebrew numerals engraved on it, that was owned by a Jewish-Russian immigrant who died on the Titanic, is expected to sell at auction for more than $20,000, the UK’s Daily Mail reported on Monday.
The starting bid for the pocket watch is $10,000, according to Heritage Auctions, the world’s largest collectibles auctioneer. The auction house noted that the silver on brass pocket watch belonged to 34-year-old Cenai Kantor, who was a passenger on the Titanic, along with his wife Miriam, 24, when the ship hit an iceberg on April 12, 1912. Cenai died when the ship sank, but Miriam, who was placed in a lifeboat, survived.
The couple had second-class tickets on the ship and were traveling to Bronx, New York, where they planned to study dentistry and medicine, the Daily Mail reported. Cenai, who was a furrier, planned to sell trunks of furs to fund their education in America.
Cenai’s body was retrieved and sent to his widow in New York, “clothed only in his underwear,” according to Heritage Auctions. Miriam, with the assistance of the Legal Aid Society, was able to trace down his other belongings found in the icy waters, recovered after an eight-day recovery operation. They were able find Cenai’s pocket watch, clothing, Russian passport, notebook, money, wallets, telescope and corkscrew. The items were given to Miriam on May 24, 1912.
The back cover of the pocket watch has a design showing Moses holding the Ten Commandments. Its hands are nearly all rusted away with discoloration and its movement also shows signs of rust, “the result of immersion in salt water,” Heritage Auctions noted. The watch is being sold with a Letter of Provenance from the consignor, a descendant of Cenai’s, along with copies of letters sent to Miriam in the aftermath of the Titanic tragedy.
‘The background story to something like this adds to the value [of the watch],” Don Ackerman, historical consignment director of Heritage Auctions, told the Daily Mail. “The guy probably didn’t have a whole lot of money, so it was something he could afford that cherished his Jewish identity and appealed to him. It would be a little nicer if the hands hadn’t rusted off and you could see what time they stopped working. But sometimes the imperfections add to the value, if it was in perfect condition people would question it.”
He added about the pocket watch, “It’s a piece that was aboard the ship and a documented history from the family makes this a bittersweet and really rare opportunity for collectors. We have handled some Titanic material before, but this is a very personal type of item and it tells a story. Just looking at it, you know it’s not just something that been sitting in someone’s attic or drawer for a while, it’s a very graphic object.”
The watch will be up for bid until August 25.