Skip to main content

'It really is a collector's collectable': Titanic key sells for $177,000 at auction


A remarkable, historic artifact with a strong Halifax connection sold at auction over the weekend for nearly $180,000.

The final price on a special key assigned to a first class steward on the Titanic was USD $151,250.

Buried in Fairview Lawn Cemetery in Halifax, Alfred Deeble was entrusted with the key to the saloon liquor cabinet — a "Pantryman" key as it was known then.

Recovered with his body after the sinking, the key was carefully catalogued in Halifax with his other possessions, and sent to his grieving sister at her request.

It remained in the family for four generations until the auction closed on Saturday.

"Actually representing items from families — descendants of the victims — has been an incredible adventure for us as an auction house, and we've learned so much about the sinking of the Titanic, the survivors, and of course those who perished and were buried in Nova Scotia," said Bobby Livingston, executive VP of RR Auction on Wednesday.

"Now, this gentleman, he worked in the saloon in First Class, and this was the key to open up the liquor cabinets. So you can imagine that he is the one that's serving the alcohol to all the millionaires in First Class," said Livingston.

"It tells a story. A story of the hubris of man, you know? This ship that was never supposed to sink, and all the millionaires are on board, you know, partying, and this man, who this key, is one that's left behind and perishes in the cold, dark Atlantic Ocean," he said.

Halifax author and historian wasn't surprised by the final sale price.

"I'm not surprised at all," said Beed.

"It really is a collector's collectable."

Beed notes the provenance of the item is about as good as it gets.

"The items from Halifax, it's the immediacy of the moment: the body is found, they find these items and they move them along, and there's a family connection," he said.

"So there's a line of connection from the death of their family member to the sale. And that really makes it important."

And increasingly rare, said Beed.

"Those things went to Halifax all over the world to various families, and some of them would have been lost in wars and moves and fires and other things. So there's getting (to be) fewer and fewer of those items that you're going to find on the market," he said.

Reaction to the news, and the story that comes with it, was mixed at Fairview Lawn on Wednesday.

"I think this guy has the most important key of the ship, and so the price is very OK," said Pete Peters, visiting from Germany with a laugh.

"If my family owned the key and we could make a dollar or two, that's kind of tempting, so no judgement on the family that sold the key. I certainly understand their perspective," said Mylinda Cherneski with her husband, Gary, visiting from Colorado.

"I understand the financial aspect on the side with the family, but I actually think it would be great to have it donated to the Maritime Museum along with the history and chronology associated with it so everyone can enjoy it," said Gary Cherneski.

The auction house will only say the piece was sold to a devoted collector in North America.

"The gentleman who won this, will take care of this archive and this key for the next generation," said Livingston.

"It will be well taken care of." Top Stories

Stay Connected