World Coins

This Day in History: April 14

A gold medal bestowed to one of the crew of the RMS Carpathia (the ship that rescued passengers from the sinking Titanic) is extremely rare and valuable.

Medal images courtesy of Sotheby’s.

The RMS Titanic was the mother of all ships, an enormous floating palace nearly 900 feet long and about 11 stories tall, several years in the making. It was designed to stay afloat for up to three days even in the worst imagined scenario, but it took little more than three hours for the ending to come to the story everyone knows, after it struck an iceberg on April 14, 1912.  

Few vessels have had a shorter and more controversial life than the RMS Titanic, whose maiden voyage turned tragic in the icy waters off the coast of Newfoundland.  

A little after noon on April 10, 1912, the Titanic departed Southampton, though it was delayed a short time because the backwash from the starboard propeller loosed the moorings of a nearby ship. The Titanic stopped at Cherbourg, France, and Queenstown (now Cobh), Ireland, picking up additional passengers and mail, and debarking cross-channel passengers. 

In total, 2,228 passengers and crew were aboard as the ship set out for the longest leg of the trip (but sources vary as to the exact number of passengers and crew members, with some reporting the total as 2,223 or 2,222). 

The ship hit an iceberg at about 11:30 p.m. on April 14.

At the time of the collision, the Titanic was cruising at its maximum cruising speed, 21 knots per hour, about 24 miles per hour.

Though the Titanic was built to withstand having two or four (reports vary) of its 16 transverse watertight compartments flood, the 300-foot-long gash in its side about 20 feet below the waterline was disastrous: water poured into the five extreme forward compartments, pushing it deeper into the water.

As it sank, water overflowed walls separating each compartment and began flooding other areas, taking advantage of a structural flaw that was later determined to be a major cause for the calamity that unfolded. In short, the watertight compartments were not watertight vertically, only having been built to be watertight below the waterline and only under normal circumstances; as the ship sank, water poured over the tops of the compartments.

The last message sent from the Titanic was “Engine room getting flooded,” and the final signals came around 12:27 a.m. New York time before the signals blurred and ended abruptly.

At 2:20 a.m., some two hours and 40 minutes after the collision, the Titanic broke in two and sank. Some 1,500+ passengers perished in the 28 degree sea. 

The RMS Carpathia arrived at the wreck site around 4 a.m. and began picking up survivors, a task that continued until all boats and survivors that could be found had been brought aboard by about 8:30 a.m.

Carpathia personnel (including Capt. Arthur Rostron) were awarded medals and other honors for their life-saving service. Rostron and a small number of others received gold examples, while silver and bronze examples were more widely distributed. 

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