In a rare and poignant glimpse into the history of the ill-fated RMS Titanic, a unique "Pantryman" key, belonging to 1st class saloon steward Alfred Arnold Deeble, is set to go under the hammer at RR Auction's annual Remarkable Rarities sale.
What distinguishes this artifact is not merely its association with the ill-fated vessel; it's the remarkable lineage meticulously documented by the Provincial Secretary of Nova Scotia that truly sets it apart. This lineage traces the key's ownership through four generations of the Deeble family. The bidding is currently at $40,387 but it's expected that it will fetch over $100,000 at the auction on Sept 23, 2023.
Recovered from Deeble's body, identified as "Body No. 270," by the Mackay-Bennett following the Titanic's tragic sinking, the key is a skeleton-type artifact that its long exposure to saltwater has weathered.
The Provincial Secretary of Nova Scotia's documentation lists a 'bunch of keys with a brass plate marked 'Pantry man'' among the items on Deeble's body. Correspondence from Harold Wingate of the White Star Line indicates that Deeble's personal effects were to be returned to his sister, setting the stage for the key's remarkable journey through the family's history.
Alfred Arnold Deeble, who had a colorful background as a Royal Navy enlistee and singer, was not the sole member of his family with ties to the Titanic. His eldest sister, Lily Florence Deeble, was engaged to John Herbert Strugnell, a steward and singer on the Titanic, and his older brother, Harold Strugnell, shared the same profession. Alfred, Lily, and John all performed at Scullard's Hotel in Southampton, as documented in an original program for an event held on April 28, 1911, a keepsake that adds depth to the family's Titanic connection.
Tragically, Alfred Arnold Deeble lost his life in the sinking of the Titanic, and his body was eventually recovered and buried at Fairview Lawn Cemetery in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on May 3, 1912. Lily Deeble, Alfred's sister, sought to recover her brother's personal effects and received the 'Pantryman' key from the White Star Line via the Board of Trade. This key, used on the Titanic, has been cherished by the family for four generations, and a detailed provenance statement accompanies it, providing insight into its ownership history and the family's genealogy.
The key isn't the only fascinating piece of history associated with this auction item. It comes with a trove of original family photographs, including portraits of Alfred Arnold Deeble and his siblings, a family photo of Alfred with his brothers and sisters, and photographs of John Herbert Strugnell, Lily Deeble's fiancé. One particularly touching portrait of Strugnell is signed in ink with the words, "Yours very affectionately, Jack, 1912," a poignant reminder of a life cut short in the Titanic disaster.
Other early 20th-century photographs included in the collection depict various family events and gatherings, while more recent photos chronicle the key's journey through time, with a 2011 image showing Linda Jo McNulty Davis visiting Alfred Arnold Deeble's grave marker in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
"Any Titanic artifact with a well-documented lineage is of the utmost desirability,” said Bobby Livingston, Executive VP at RR Auction. “That this originates directly from the family who witnessed dual tragedies in the deaths of saloon stewards Alfred Arnold Deeble and John Herbert Strugnell makes it all the more poignant.
While the Titanic key is undoubtedly a standout item, it's just one of many historical treasures up for auction. The highlights include rare printings of Alexander Hamilton's Federalist Papers, Thomas Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia, and a first edition of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates signed by Abraham Lincoln. The auction also features personal items once owned by the legendary Harry Houdini, custom-engraved revolvers presented to J. Edgar Hoover, rare Albert Einstein autographs, and even Apollo 17 moonwalker Gene Cernan's flown EVA cuff checklist.
Online bidding for these remarkable rarities has already begun, and the live auction is scheduled to take place on September 23, 2023. For further details and to participate in the auction, visit www.rrauction.com.