06:08 PM ET 03/30/98
By Paul Majendie
LONDON (Reuters) - The prices of Titanic memorabilia are rising as fast as the mighty liner sank.
``Interest has been huge. It should all sell and sell well,'' Sotheby's specialist Catherine Southon said of the latest auction being staged in London Wednesday.
Titanic souvenir sales have been fueled by the runaway success of the Oscar-winning epic that has become the world's most popular film.
From New York to London, fans are desperate to capture a little bit of history from the liner that hit an iceberg on its maiden voyage in 1912. It sank within three hours, killing 1,523 passengers and crew.
Among the most poignant items up for sale at the Sotheby's auction are 28 telegrams sent from survivors picked up by the rescue ship Carpathia.
``It is very heart-rending to read through them,'' Southon said of the messages expected to sell for a total of 20,000 pounds ($33,500).
``Don't be alarmed,'' read one.
``Keep praying for us,'' said another.
Sotheby's is also auctioning a third class ticket for the Titanic stamped with the word ``Transfer.'' It belonged to a woman who switched at the last moment to the RMS Celtic because she wanted to leave a day later.
Photographs of Titanic survivors and the playing cards of a gambler who survived are also in the auction.
English musician James Barker took haunting images of the first woman survivor brought aboard the Carpathia as well as the iceberg that sunk ``the ship of dreams.''
French pioneer aviator Pierre Marechal was playing bridge in the ship's Cafe Parisien on the evening disaster struck. He tucked the cards in his jacket, took to the lifeboats and survived.
Last month, a volume of dramatic distress signals from the doomed ocean liner sold for $123,500 in New York. It included the eerie message: ``We have struck an iceberg.''
Prices at the Christie's sale far exceeded the auctioneer's expectations.
The British Titanic Society, which produces a quarterly magazine, reports that membership has soared.
``We have had 500 new members since the film came out from all around the world from Australia to South Africa. It has gone crazy. There really is a great upsurge,'' Society spokesman Brian Ticehurst said.
Copies of the magazine were quickly sold out. Members clamor for copies of the passenger list.
Life jackets and dinner plates used as props in the film have also become best-sellers, going for up to $1,400 each in New York, he said.
Unlike the marine explorers at the start of the film, Ticehurst has no desire to plunge to the murky depths of the Atlantic and see for himself.
``No, I don't want to go down. I'm far too much of a coward,'' he said. ``I am quite happy researching the crew and passengers. That's my forte.''
($ - 0.595 British Pounds)