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Sold: A Pocket Watch From the Titanic, Adorned with Hebrew Letters

The watch belonged to Sinai Kantor, a Russian immigrant who died when the ship went down

The precious piece sold for $57,500. (Heritage Auctions, HA.com)
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On April 15, 1912, Sinai Kantor was among the more than 1,500 people who lost their lives when the Titanic plunged into the North Atlantic. Recovery workers later pulled his body from the ocean and found a number of items that had been on his person when he died. One of those items, a pocket watch marked with Hebrew letters, recently sold at auction for $57,500, reports the Associated Press.

The watch, which spent days immersed in saltwater, is not in particularly good shape. The silver that once covered its case has worn away to reveal the brass below, the hands have nearly deteriorated, the dial is stained and the mechanism is rusted, according to the Texas-based Heritage Auctions. But the watch’s elaborate decoration is still visible. On the back cover is an embossed design showing Moses receiving the Ten Commandments. On the face, Hebrew letters take the place of numerals; Kantor and his wife Miriam, who was also on the ship, were Jewish.

John Miottel, owner of the private Miottel Museum in California, purchased the watch at auction. He already owns a number of timepieces that belonged to Titanic victims, including John Jacob Astor IV, the financier who helped build the Waldorf-Astoria hotel, and Oscar Woody, the Titanic’s U.S. Postal Clerk.

Sinai and Miriam were Russian immigrants. He was 34 and she was 24 when they boarded the Titanic in Southampton, England with dreams of starting afresh in New York. They paid £26 (around $3,666 in today’s currency, according to Heritage Auctions) for their second-class tickets on the ship. Sinai was a furrier, and brought with him several trunks of fur that he hoped to sell in order to finance the couple’s education. Both Sinai and Miriam were college graduates, and according to Red Cross documents, Sinai planned to study medicine in New York. Miriam wanted to become a dentist.

The couple’s hopes of building a new life together in America would never come to fruition. As the Titanic sank, and women and children were evacuated from the ship, Miriam was able to make it onto a lifeboat. But Sinai died when the ship went down.

The recent auction of the watch also included a number of documents indicating that Miriam struggled to regain the possessions that were recovered from her husband’s body. A letter from the legal aid society, sent on Miriam’s behalf to the Provincial Secretary of Halifax, Nova Scotia, claims that “when she left her husband on the steamer he was wearing certain articles. But the body, when it arrived, had on only the underwear.”

Another document lists the items that were found on Sinai’s person: “Pocket telescope, silver watch, pocketbook with foreign notes, letter case, empty purse” and a purse with gold and silver coins inside.

According to Heritage Auctions, Miriam did eventually obtain her husband’s possessions. The watch was sold by a “direct descendant of Miriam and Sinai Kantor,” according to the auction house.

Miottel, the collector who bought the watch, said it “will take one of the primary spots” in his museum’s collection.

About Brigit Katz

Brigit Katz is a freelance writer based in Toronto. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, including NYmag.com, Flavorwire and Tina Brown Media's Women in the World.

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