LONDON - The violin played by the Titanic's bandmaster as the ship sank beneath the waves sold at auction for £900,000 (S$1.8 million) , a world record for memorabilia from the doomed liner.
Wallace Hartley's violin was found strapped to his body after he drowned with some 1,500 others on board the supposedly unsinkable ship in 1912.
It was sold to a British collector after a feverish 10-minute battle between telephone bidders at Titanic specialist auctioneers Henry Aldridge and Son in Devizes, southwest England.
The instrument carries an inscription from the 33-year-old's fiancee Maria Robinson to mark their engagement and was sold with the leather luggage case, initialled W.H.H, in which it was found.
For decades the violin was believed lost but it was found in the attic of a house in northwest England in 2006, prompting a debate about its authenticity, which experts only recently resolved.
"We're absolutely overjoyed," Christine Aldridge, a spokeswoman for the auction house, told AFP. "It was sold to a UK collector who was bidding by telephone. The whole sale only took about 10 minutes."
She said the final price including premiums paid to the auction house was £1,050,030.
Mr Hartley's band famously decided to continue performing as the Titanic sank, playing the hymn "Nearer, My God, to Thee" to comfort the panicked passengers as they sought places in the few lifeboats.
Mr Hartley and his seven bandmates all died when the ship slipped beneath the icy North Atlantic on April 15, 1912, after hitting an iceberg.
Bidding for the violin started at just £50. But within a few minutes it had passed the previous world record of £220,000 for a piece of Titanic memorabilia sold at auction, a 10-metre plan of the ship that went under the hammer in 2011.
There were gasps from the 200 people packed into the auction house as the price reached £350,000 and then a tense silence as the battle for the instrument narrowed to two telephone bidders.
It had a reserve price of £200,000 to £300,000.
Andrew Aldridge, a valuer with the auctioneer, said he hoped the violin would stay in Britain and go on display.
"It symbolises love, with a young man strapping it to his body because it was an engagement present from his fiancee," he said. "It also epitomises bravery. He knew there would be no lifeboats. It symbolises everything that's good about people, not just Wallace Hartley and his band, but all the men, women and children who lost their lives."