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  • On a cold night, April 15, 1912, the Titanic struck an iceberg, sank in just over two hours and laid undisturbed in the North Atlantic for seven decades. Now more than 5,500 artifacts and the ship itself is up for auction in an unprecedented sale.

    The famous shipwreck, which reaches its centennial this year, yielded fine china, silverware, clothing, diamond jewelry and other personal items, decorative items from the boat, and even pieces of the ship, according to RMS Titanic Inc., a division of Premier Exhibitions.

    “The time was just right,” said company spokesman Brian Wanger.

    Check out Titanic artifacts; click to enlarge.

    The company, which has owned the ship’s salvage rights for 18 years, is only selling the collection as one lot. Auction estimates range as high as $189 million. As a result, museums and research institutions are expected to lead the bidding.

    The artifacts were recovered over eight expeditions to the ship. All of the items were taken from the ship’s debris field. The ship itself has been off-limits to salvaging.

    In addition to artifacts, the auction includes salvage rights, essentially ownership of the ship, as well as more than 1,000 hours of video footage in and around the wreck. Individual items from the ship, possessed by survivors and their relatives, have gone to auction in the past and drawn top prices.

    Guernsey’s Auctioneers & Brokers, which is handling the sale, sold an original menu from the ship in 2004 for $100,000, according to Guernsey’s President Arlan Ettinger.

    Bidders must be pre-qualified and submit sealed bids before Apr. 2. As of today (Mar. 15), no bids had been received. Restrictions on the collection may be holding bidders at bay. The wreck is also under the jurisdiction of the U.S. federal court.

    “We just hope that it remains properly conserved and cared for and that the collection remains intact,” said Dominique Rissolo, executive director of the Waitt Institute, which was involved in mapping the wreck site on the most recent expedition. “We would prefer that it never enter private hands — it’s not about ownership but telling a story.”

    The wreck was finally located in 1985 off the coast of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Eight research and recovery expeditions have taken place since then.

    Premier said a portion of the proceeds will go to the Titanic Preservation Trust, created to preserve the Titanic artifacts.