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Titanic Auction Calls for a Gigantic Bankroll

BOSTON ( MainStreet) -- It's the ultimate luxury item: A 5,500-piece collection of artifacts recovered from the Titanic -- and you can buy it all for around $200 million at auction this spring on the 100th anniversary of the ship's sinking.

"We have determined that the time has come for us to transfer ownership of this collection to a steward who is able to continue our efforts and will preserve and honor Titanic's legacy," says Mark Sellers of Premier Exhibitions (PRXI - Get Report), which holds official salvage rights to the vessel and will auction off its entire collection April 15.

A 17-ton piece of the Titanic's hull is among items going up for auction this spring, but don't expect to just pick up this single piece for your front yard. The entire lot of salvaged artifacts is to be sold together for an estimated $189 million.

That's the 100th anniversary of the day Titanic sank some 400 miles off of the Canadian coast after striking an iceberg during its maiden voyage from Britain to America.

Billed as unsinkable, the luxury liner didn't carry enough lifeboats for everyone, and two-thirds of its 2,200 passengers and crew -- including super-wealthy ticket holders such as John Jacob Astor IV and Benjamin Guggenheim -- perished.

Titanic memorabilia has been a hot seller ever since, with companies bringing out items such as commemorative postcards within days of the disaster.

"The stunning news of its sinking shook the world, resulting in countless books and magazine articles revealing endless 'mini-sagas' about the lives of the passengers on board," said Arlan Ettinger of Guernsey's, which is conducting the auction. "On a personal level, my 12-year-old son seems as fascinated by the Titanic as my father was before me. The saga just seems to go on and on."

Gary Robinson, one of about two-dozen major Titanic collectors, said the 1997 film Titanic -- which won 11 Academy awards and grossed a then-record $1.8 billion worldwide -- took interest in the disaster to a whole new level.

"The movie was both a blessing and a curse for collectors," he said. "It was a blessing in that it bought out items from peoples' closets and attics that they didn't previously think the public would have much interest in. But it was a curse in that it drove memorabilia prices through the roof."

Auctioneers around the world plan to mark the shipwreck's centennial by holding the largest auctions ever of life jackets, dinner menus and other surviving items from the ship.

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