UK Museums Bid to Save Titanic Artefacts

Posted on: September 26, 2018 by

Hedge funds are competing with a consortium of British museums to purchase 5,500 artefacts salvaged from the Titanic, which sank on its maiden voyage in April 1912 with the loss of 1,500 lives.

The current owner of the artefacts, Premier Exhibitions, is selling them after filing for bankruptcy in the United States in 2016.  The US judge overseeing the case has determined that the artefacts must be sold as a whole collection rather than as individual items.  The collection includes furnishings, jewellery, photographs and diaries with an estimated value of $200 million if sold separately.

The British consortium, which includes the National Maritime Museum and Titanic Belfast, announced in July it would make a $20 million bid to acquire the collection, but despite a well publicised campaign, it was reportedly unable to raise enough money to make an initial offer.

A group of hedge funds, led by Apollo Global Management, has reportedly made a rival bid of $19.5 million for the collection, threatening the efforts of the British museums to bring the collection back to the UK and into public ownership.

The British museums now have until the 5th of October to make a competing offer of at least $21.5 million.  If there are competing bids, a bankruptcy auction will take place on the 11th of October and whoever secures ownership of the collection will also obtain salvage rights to the wreckage.

The consortium of British museums has the backing of James Cameron, the director of the 1997 film Titanic, as well as Robert Ballard, the former US naval commander who located the wreckage in 1985 and led the diving expeditions from 1987. The National Geographic Society has also offered its support, launching a fundraising appeal with a $500,000 donation.

If the consortium is successful, Titanic Belfast will be the principal venue for the public display of artefacts. The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, which will be joint custodian of the collection alongside National Museums Northern Ireland, will also host a selection of the artefacts on display.  Artefacts not on display will be cared for and stored at the National Maritime Museum’s Prince Philip Maritime Collections Centre which provides state-of-the-art conservation and storage facilities for artefacts.

Whenever a corporate entity holding an important art collection is faced with insolvency, questions arise as to whether the collection should be preserved as a whole, brought back into public ownership or sold off and dispersed to satisfy the insolvent’s creditors.  Such issues were covered in the Institute of Art and Law’s Art and Insolvency Seminar in July 2017 and between the 15th to 19th October 2018, the IAL will be exploring the legal issues of collections management, focusing on the practical and pragmatic use of legal tools to improve the running and development of museums, their collections and their collaborative exhibition programmes, in our Diploma in Law and Collections Management (DipLCM) course in London.  For more information or to book a spot, see here.