1906-O half dollar from Titanic victim realizes $20,974.45 in online auction

Coin recovered from English passenger bound to start new life in U.S.
By Jeff Starck - Coin World Staff
Published : 05/02/14
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A 1906-O Barber silver half dollar recovered from a passenger who died in the Titanic sinking realized $20,974.45, including the 22.5 percent buyer’s fee, in an online Titanic-themed auction by RR Auction that closed April 24.

Englishman John W. Gill’s body was recovered by the cable ship CS Mackay-Bennett in the aftermath of the RMS Titanic’s sinking, and he was buried at sea. Numerous objects were recovered from his body and cataloged before being returned to his widow, including the silver coin, all of which were included in the inventory list prepared by the provincial coroner of Nova Scotia.

The second-class passenger was traveling to America to create a new life and home for himself and his newlywed bride, Sarah, who had remained in England. When he died April 15, 1912, the 24-year-old carried $43 in U.S. paper money and $4.60 in U.S. coins, as well as smaller amounts of British currency and his £13 ticket for fare.

John Gill was supposed to have been accompanied by his wife and her father. They instead decided to stay behind and complete business before joining him in America later in 1912, according to the auction house.

His wife, whom he had married two months before he died, fell into such a state of shock that she was unable or unwilling to speak for more than 20 years, according to the auction firm, citing multiple pieces of Titanic research.

Gill was never able to bring herself to spend the recovered money and retained it with his other effects including his pocket watch, keys and ring. Everything remained with the family for 90 years. All possessions recovered from Gill were sold in a single lot at auction in April 2002 by Henry Aldridge and Son.

This coin and others from Gill subsequently were sold individually in a 2012 auction, also by Aldridge.

The coin is “a heart-wrenching relic of a young couple’s promising future shattered by the Titanic tragedy,” says Bobby Livingston, vice president at RR Auction in New Hampshire.

The winning bidder in the weeklong auction was a “currency collector from the Northeast,” according to Livingston, who noted that the lot’s consignor, Washington, D.C., lawyer Mark Zaid, was “thrilled with the price” that it realized.

No grade is identified for the coin, which had a starting bid of $500.

For more information about the sale, telephone the firm at 800-937-3880 or visit the firm’s website, www.rrauction.com.

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