A battery of forensics tests has determined that a violin found in a British man's attic is the instrument that was used by the bandmaster of the Titanic to play, according to lore, "Nearer My God to Thee" during the ship's last moments.
Already offers to buy the ruined violin are pouring in.
Craig Sopin, 55, a lawyer from Philadelphia, owner of one of the world's largest collections of Titanic memorabilia and a leading Titanic expert, estimates the value of the violin to "exceed six figures, maybe seven figures."
"I think certainly it's the most iconic piece that's come from the ship," Sopin told ABCNews.com. "Not only is it something that people would have seen and someone important would have touched, but it's an important part of the Titanic's story."
Bandmaster Wallace Hartley, 34, from Colne, Lancashire, died in the 1912 Titanic disaster and his brave and elegant playing amid the desperation of the doomed ship has become one of the central stories of the catastrophe.
How the violin survived the wreck is not known for certain. The auction house Henry Aldrige and Son of Wiltshire, England, which has researched the instrument's history, noted that several newspapers from May 1912 reported that Hartley was found with the instrument in a leather case strapped to his body
In 2006, the son of an amateur musician discovered the violin in a leather case with the initials "W. H. H." while looking through his mother's things in the attic. His mother had been given the violin by her former violin instructor.
The violin's owner, who is remaining anonymous, took the violin, along with jewelry from Hartley, to Aldrige and Son to inquire about its authenticity. The auction house has extensive experience with Titanic memorabilia.
"We looked at the items and decided that they certainly merited additional attention," Andrew Aldrige, head of Titanic and transport memorabilia for the auction house, told ABCNews.com.
The auctioneers brought the violin to the government's Forensic Science Service. After several years of tests, the service concluded that the corrosion deposits on it were compatible with immersion in sea water. Specialists used the corrosion deposits on items from other Titanic victims as a benchmark for comparison.
"And then we decided we need a jewelry expert," Aldrige said.
One of the unique attributes of this violin is an engraved silver plate, which states, "For Wallace on the occasion of our engagement from Maria." Historical research suggests that Maria Robinson gave a violin to Hartley in 1910 when the two became engaged.
Through analysis, a silver expert was able to confirm that the silver plate and its engraving style was contemporary to 1910.
The final vital piece of proof is the historical train of evidence linking the violin to its owner on the Titanic.
A July 1912 entry from Maria Robinson's diary included a telegram draft to a man in Nova Scotia thanking him for the return of the violin. After Robinson's death in 1939, her sister gave the violin to Bridlington Salvation Army and told its leader, a Major Renwick, about the instrument's association with the Titanic.
From Renwick the violin made its way to a violin teacher who gave it to the current owner's mother. "It's been in the same family for over 70 years," Aldrige said.
The auction house has declared the violin to be authentic and Sopin, who says he is usually suspicious of Titanic claims, believes it is Hartley's violin and not a fraud.
"How could they fake the fact that is clearly of the appropriate age? You would have to have some many people involved in this conspiracy," he told ABC News.
Aldrige said the owner is interested in selling the violin, but would like as many people to be able to see it first. The violin will go on public display at the Belfast City Hall over Easter, less than a mile from where Titanic was built. Further negotiations are being made for additional exhibitions around the world.
- Wallace Hartley