A Titanic Disaster
By Byron King
(This Daily Reckoning “Classique” first appeared in Whiskey & Gunpowder on December 1, 2004, recounting a Philadelphia exhibit of Titanic artifacts.)
The first item is a set of gold-rimmed eyeglasses. Further on, there is a pocket watch stopped at 11:14. Then there is a brown leather suitcase, somewhat worse for the wear. There are stacks of white dishes and racks of dark green bottles. Another display shows brass plumbing fixtures and a gray, steel wrench. And at another stop along the walk one sees a copper and glass engine thermometer. There is a jade rosary, and a man’s boulder hat, of all things, in remarkably fine condition, considering… And a pair of woman’s shoes, made of black leather. Not one shoe, but a pair, recovered from the sea floor beneath 12,000 feet of cold North Atlantic water.
Then there are the coins and paper currency. Gold coins, silver coins, copper. British, American, French. This was real money back then, from a gold standard era. And the paper notes also tell a tale. They are a collection of official British and American treasury promissory notes, and a remarkable amount of scrip from private banks, redeemable in precious metal.
Every note has an annotation at some spot or another, promising to pay to the bearer some quantity of gold or silver. “One Dollar Silver Note,” from a bank in New England, redeemable in an ounce of silver from that institution. Or a “Two Dollar Silver Certificate,” to be paid on demand by the Treasury of the United States of America in, not surprisingly, two ounces of silver. Or “Ten Gold Dollars,” half an ounce of yellow metal in 1912, promised by and intended to be paid to the bearer from the precious gold assets of the Government of the United States.