Titanic Pocket Watches
One of the most treasured items in watch collecting history is a pocket watch recovered from a passenger of the RMS Titanic.
It was worn by Mr. John J. Astor, and it was recovered with his body when the Atlantic Ocean was initially searched for survivors of the ship.
The sinking of the Titanic on April 14th & 15th of 1912 was a horrendous event. The fright from such a fate would cause even the most placid person to become unraveled. When the Titanic was sinking, Astor helped his pregnant wife into a lifeboat as a precaution. He gave up his own place on the lifeboat to another woman because he insisted that the women and children should go first. Astor never made it off the ship. When his body was found, it was covered in soot and blood. This led to speculation that he was killed by the collapsing funnel as the ship went down. John J. Astor was identified by his initials, which were sewn into his jacket. In his pocket was a gold pocket watch, which also bore his initials. After his remains were recovered, John Astor’s son Vincent Astor picked up the clothes and the watch. He allegedly wore the watch for most of his life.
There were other pocket watches recovered from the wreckage of the Titanic. One of the watches stopped as soon as its owner plunged into the icy waters of the North Atlantic Ocean. The watch belonged to Mr. John Chapman; he was 37 years old. His wife Lizzy refused to get into the lifeboat without her husband. Mr. Chapman was following Astor’s lead by allowing the women and children to board the lifeboats ahead of the male passengers. Sadly, they both drowned. Mr. Chapman and his pocket watch were eventually found. Lizzy’s body, however, was never recovered.
If you read our blog about clocks regularly, you probably already know that old pocket watches are completely mechanical devices, and they are very fragile. It’s not hard to believe that a pocket watch being submerged in freezing water would almost instantly stop running. The water temperature would freeze the oil in the mechanisms, and the watch’s parts would cease to move. The recovered Titanic watches have quite an interesting history; very few people are fortunate enough to have collected these rare timepieces.
As noted earlier, the Astor pocket watch was passed down to John Astor’s son Vincent. After Vincent’s death, the events surrounding this watch take quite an interesting turn. Vincent left the watch to his godson, William A Dobbyn. It remained in the Dobbyn family until it was sold at auction to an American businessman in the 1990s. Here is where the story gets both interesting as well as ugly. Vincent’s wife, Brooke Astor remained married to him until his death. She had a son by a previous marriage. His name is Anthony Marshall.
Anthony Marshall is apparently a man with a shady past. He was convicted of stealing 60 million dollars of his mother Brooke’s money while she suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. Anthony Marshall apparently allowed Brooke to live out her later years in squalor, and she eventually died in this disgraceful way. What was left of Brooke Astor‘s possessions was later auctioned off and given to her favorite charitable organizations.
Apparently, the 60 million dollars that Marshall and his wife acquired from his mother was not enough. Marshall has been bragging about having the Titanic pocket watch recovered from John J. Astor.
Marshall stunned the distinguished guests at a lavish party for a proposed cruise ship to be named Titanic II with this news. The Titanic II is the brainchild of an Australian businessman. At the party, Marshall wore a watch that he insisted was a family heirloom from John J. Astor. He was making his way around the room telling everyone that he was asking a million dollars for the watch, which he said was found on Astor’s body. Apparently, however, no one was fooled by his claims. Marshall is now 88 years old. Because of his past fraudulent activity and subsequent criminal conviction, he and his wife have lived a frugal life of solitude ever since his conviction; they are rarely seen in public. After his behavior at the Titanic II party, it’s easy to see why solitude might be the better choice.
John Miottel, the California real estate magnate who enjoys collecting luxury ocean liner items, was not surprised when he heard that someone was claiming to have the Astor pocket watch. Mr. Miottel stated that it is just another ruse by a most unscrupulous man because he in fact purchased the authentic Astor pocket watch in the 1990s!
It’s amazing that the John Astor pocket watch was ever recovered. After all, it was in the water for over two weeks when it was found. It remained attached to Mr. Astor despite being subjected to the current of the Atlantic Ocean. Given this tremendous history, it’s really a shame that the watch has become muddled in a story of fraud and deceit. Nevertheless, it has survived along with many other pieces from the Titanic wreckage. Pocket watches were very well-made back in the old days, and many of them have survived the ravages of time through restoration and good maintenance by watch aficionados!
In 2012, yet another pocket watch found amidst the wreckage of the Titanic was placed for auction. This pocket watch was part of a very large collection of items retrieved from the wreckage and and supposedly belonged to a hotelier named Thomas William Solomon Brown. Premier Expeditions were the previous owners of the collection, which included this pocket watch. The company spokesperson stated that although it was an honor to have the collection, it was extremely expensive to maintain it. They decided to allow individual ownership of these historical artifacts. This ensures that the collection will survive the ages. This is especially important for pocket watches found in the wreckage. Most collectors have to constantly maintain old pocket watches to keep them in working order.
Titanic Mantel Clocks
There are other timepieces that have been recovered from the Titanic that hold great value. The ship was very lavishly constructed. Carved mahogany fireplace mantles adorned some of the fireplaces of the ship’s cabins. When the Titanic wreckage was being searched, the crew discovered that a mahogany fireplace mantle was still in place, and sitting on top of the mantle was a gold clock. The brightness of the gold clock surprised the search party. They couldn’t believe what they were seeing.
Who could imagine a clock would last 74 years on the murky floor of the Atlantic Ocean? One can’t help but wonder if a modern clock would survive that long in the ocean. We think that it would probably work after restoration, but unless the outer case was constructed as well as antique clocks were, it probably wouldn’t look as good.
The Titanic Grand Staircase Clock
The RMS Titanic had two great, winding staircases which were used by first-class passengers. These staircases were ornate and represent some of the most decorative elements of the Titanic. At the midpoint of these dual staircases, a clock could be seen, and this clock has become somewhat emblematic, representing the Titanic’s luxury and splendor. Surrounding the clock are carved oak panels displaying a scene depicting “Honor and Glory crowning Time” (in the form of two carved, symbolic figures).
Although the original clock from this Grand Staircase appears to have gone missing, there are in fact many reproductions of this clock currently on sale…which would surely be a macabre addition to any home.
Because this dual staircase is large, it has often been used by submersible devices as an entry point into the ship’s interior. As one of the more easily identifiable visual elements of the Titanic, the staircases and the clock have indeed been featured in most films created about the Titanic. The 1997 Titanic film is no exception. In this excerpt from the dream sequence of the film, the clock has stopped at 2:20 am – this is the time of the ship’s final sinking!
The Titanic pocket watches and clocks are now all over 100 years old.
It’s truly amazing that at least some of them have managed to survive, after all this time.
OnlineClock.net salutes the collectors who have maintained these rare and historically-significant watches, as well as the more than 1,500 men, women and children of the RMS Titanic who lost their lives in this tragedy.
God rest their souls!