Titanic survivor’s light-up walking stick is up for auction as seller faces ownership legal battle4 min read

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A Titanic survivor’s walking stick, with an electric light she used to signal for help from a lifeboat, is one of thousands of maritime items that will be up for auction in Rhode Island.

Guernsey’s auction house is holding the auction at the International Yacht Restoration School in Newport on July 19 and 20 and Guernsey’s President Arlan Ettinger described Ella White’s cane as one of the most extraordinary items to have survived the sinking.

But as the seller is set to fetch between $300,000 and $500,000 next week in an effort to pay for college, relatives last week said they were prepared to fight the sale, claiming the funds should be split.

‘It’s a fabled object and Titanic enthusiasts have certainly heard of it,’ he said. ‘Most didn’t know it has survived. The family didn’t do anything to promote it, so it’s a very exciting discovery,’ Ettinger said about the find.

A Light-up cane that helped save Titanic passengers will be on auction at the International Yacht Restoration School in Newport on July 19 and 20 and could fetch as much as $500,000

A Light-up cane that helped save Titanic passengers will be on auction at the International Yacht Restoration School in Newport on July 19 and 20 and could fetch as much as $500,000

Most didn't know it has survived the sinking ship on April 1912 but it helped save lives

Most didn’t know it has survived the sinking ship on April 1912 but it helped save lives

The walking stick was consigned to Guernsey’s by the Williams family in Milford, Connecticut.

Brad Williams said his grandmother, Mildred Holmes, was White’s niece and cared for her affairs before she died in 1942 at the age of 85.

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Holmes took possession of the walking stick and it was passed on to Williams’ mother, then to him, according to the seller.

Williams, a 59-year-old cane collector, says he kept it in an umbrella stand with about 35 other canes. 

He said he wants it to go to a home where it will be better displayed, and use the proceeds for his children. 

Late New York socialite Ella White picked up the item when she hurt herself in France

Late New York socialite Ella White picked up the item when she hurt herself in France

‘It’s family history so I do I have trepidation about parting with it, but I also have to pay for college,’ said Williams, who runs a boat repair business in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

The pre-auction estimate is $300,000 to $500,000, though Ettinger said it’s very hard to predict what it might fetch because it’s such an unprecedented artifact. A violin played by the Titanic’s bandleader as the ship sank sold at auction in 2013 for about $1.7 million.

On the night of April 14, 1912, the British liner RMS Titanic collided with an iceberg in the North Atlantic and began sinking. The ship went under two hours and 40 minutes later and more than 1,500 people died.

In Walter Lord’s book about the Titanic and in investigative hearings after the sinking, it’s documented that White appointed herself as a signalman for lifeboat 8, waving her walking stick about.

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Guernsey’s will have other Titanic items for sale, but the walking stick is clearly the most noteworthy item and the auction house has verified its authenticity, Ettinger said. 

It’s a black enameled stick with an amber-colored bakelite and battery-illuminated crown. Williams said it still lights up.

It's a black enameled stick with an amber-colored bakelite and battery-illuminated crown

It lights up in the dark

It’s a black enameled stick with an amber-colored bakelite and battery-illuminated crown. It still lights up 

White used the electric light to signal for help s others rowed the lifeboat until they were seen

White used the electric light to signal for help s others rowed the lifeboat until they were seen

‘Things don’t usually stay protected in this way. Objects get misplaced, lost, forgotten about, thrown out, traded,’ Ettinger said. ‘This most historic walking stick stayed in that family’s hands and it will be sold for the first time in more than 100 years.’

But the New York Post reported John Hoving, 61, and his brother, Samuel, were set to take on Williams. They claim Holmes didn’t give the cane to her daughter but it was her son instead.

Guernsey's President Arlan Ettinger described Ella White's cane as one of the most extraordinary items to have survived the sinking

Guernsey’s President Arlan Ettinger described Ella White’s cane as one of the most extraordinary items to have survived the sinking

Hoving said his father, Harry S. Durand, kept it in his umbrella stand at 340 East 72nd Street New York, NY 10021 until he moved and it disappeared.

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‘We’re in the process of reaching out to an attorney now,’ Hoving told The Post last Saturday. ‘I don’t care about the dough. It’s just kind of an injustice. It’s the principal of the thing. It’s a family heirloom. And if he’s going to sell it, there’s ten or eleven cousins and siblings. It should be split among all of us.’

Pottery shards recovered from the wreck site will also be auctioned. A host of other nautical artifacts will also be auctioned off, including a poster from the ship’s owner, White Star Line, and a receipt from a passenger on the Titanic. 

The 700-lot ‘A Century at Sea’ auction also includes paintings by well-known marine artists, wooden boats, hand-crafted ship models and items from a wide array of other noteworthy ships, including the RMS Lusitania, the SS Normandie, SS Andrea Doria and SS United States. Gold, pearls and emeralds from two 1600s Spanish shipwrecks, recovered by treasure hunter Mel Fisher, will be auctioned too.

It’s the first auction the New York-based auction house has held in Newport since 1988. The auction preview begins July 18 at the yacht restoration school, which prepares students for careers in technology and the marine trades.