Since 1987—two years after the Titanic wreck was discovered—seven trips have been made to the ship's debris field, and more than 5500 artifacts have been salvaged. Here are a few of them.
1. An Alligator Purse
When British milliner Marion Meanwell boarded Titanic, among her belongings was a luxury item: an alligator purse. Meanwell, who was moving to the U.S. to live with her daughter and grandkids, wasn’t supposed to be on the Titanic; she ended up grabbing a third-class ticket after the other ship she was due to travel on was taken out of service. Within her bag were things like her marriage license, a receipt for a canary she was transporting for a relative (which was retired from exhibition in 2016), and a note from a former landlord vouching for her ability to reliably pay rent.
The papers survived thanks to the fact that they were in her purse—it kept what was inside safe from the marine environment. As conservator David Galusha told The New York Times, “The thickness of the alligator skin, the quality, is no comparison to what you would find today. There was a general attitude at the time of making things durable, things that would stand the test of time.” Sadly, Meanwell died when Titanic went down.
2. Vials of Perfume
On a 2000 salvage mission, RMS Titanic, Inc. (RMST Inc.) nabbed a leather pouch, and, as salvage expert Dik Barton told ABC News in 2001, “We didn't know what we discovered until we hit the surface." When they brought the pouch to the ship's lab and opened it up, "a scent filled the entire lab with Edwardian perfume,” he said.
The pouch contained small vials of perfume samples (some broken) belonging to 47-year-old perfume maker Adolph Saalfeld, a first-class passenger from Manchester. Several other pouches bearing his name were discovered, and all included samples of perfume—62 in all. Saafeld, who survived the disaster, left the pouches behind when he fled the ship.
After being retrieved from the depths, Saalfeld's scents had a second life: According to ABC, the perfume was “broken down … into its component chemicals to recreate the scent.” The result was Legacy 1912, which, according to QVC, has “the fragrance of delicate lemon and nerolis, alongside blushing rose and warm, sheer amber.” The packaging design was based on a door brought up from the wreck.
3. A Bronze Cherub
In 1987, RMST Inc. brought up a rare artifact: A bronze cherub believed to come from a light fixture on one of the ship’s staircases. (Exactly which one seems to be a matter of debate; according to CNN, one theory is that it came from “the upper landing of the grand staircase in first class because it is smaller than the cherubs on the main staircase landings.”) The statue is missing both its torch and its left foot, which may have been lost when it was wrenched from its post.
4. A Bejeweled Bracelet
This bracelet has a 15-carat rose gold band with silver overlay and the name Amy encrusted with diamonds. It was found in a leather bag that, according to RMST Inc., may have been left with the purser (whose duties included the safekeeping of passengers’ valuables). The owner has never been officially identified, but in her book Titanic: Women and Children First, Judith B. Gellar theorizes that it might have belonged to third-class passenger Amy Stanley, who was en route to Connecticut to take a position as a domestic working for the Dann family in New Haven, Connecticut. She seems to be the only person named Amy on Titanic, and survived the disaster.
5. The Deck Bell
Among the artifacts salvaged by RMS Titanic Inc. is the bronze deck bell that a lookout named Frederick Fleet rang when he spotted the iceberg. The bell was recovered in 1987.
6. Sheet Music
At least two pieces of sheet music have been recovered from the wreck: “On Mobile Bay,” a piece written around 1910, and “Put Your Arms Around Me, Honey” from the Broadway musical Madame Sherry. The latter artifact belonged to Howard Irwin, who was traveling around the world with a friend. The final part of their trip was to be Titanic’s maiden voyage. Irwin, however, missed the ship (he may have been robbed not long before Titanic departed), but both his friend and his belongings made it. Sadly, Irwin’s friend, Henry Sutehall, Jr., died in the sinking. The sheet music was recovered in 1993.
This logometer, which was used to determine the speed at which the ship was sailing as well as the distance it had covered, trailed behind Titanic. Beginning at noon on April 14, 1912, the device logged 268 nautical miles.
8. A Piece of the Hull
This 13-by-30-foot section of the hull—known as “The Big Piece”—weighs a whopping 15 tons. It was first spotted in 1994, and after a 1996 salvage operation failed when the cable holding the piece snapped, it was successfully salvaged in 1998. Tom Zaller, then-president of Premier Exhibitions, told SF Gate in 2006 that when the piece, which comes from the ship’s starboard side, was brought up from the depths, “It was covered with sea life, green and mossy, red and all these crazy colors.” After its recovery, the piece was desalinized and treated to help slow rusting and erosion. (According to The New York Times, “The larger portholes looked into cabins, while the smaller portholes were for the bathrooms.” The portholes still contain glass.)
9. A Bowler Hat
Unlike many of the other artifacts of clothing from the wreck, this bowler hat—a fashionable accessory for men at the time of the Titanic’s maiden voyage—was not protected by a bag or a trunk but survived in relatively good condition anyway. It was recovered in 1993.
10. First-Class and Third-Class China
According to RMST Inc., only “elite” first-class passengers would have used the cobalt blue and gold china, which was made by Spode China, Ltd., a company that still exists today.
The third-class china, meanwhile, was likely also used by the crew. According to RMST Inc., “Third-class china was open-stock, white pieces with the White Star Line logo printed in a single, red color, which eliminated the need for expensive hand decorating.”
11. A Wool Vest
This wool vest belonged to third-class passenger William Henry Allen, who died in the disaster. According to the Los Angeles Times, the vest was found in his suitcase and appeared “pressed and ready to wear” at an exhibition leading up to the auction of the artifacts in 2012. Dress boots belonging to Allen were also pulled up from the wreckage.
12. Margaret "Molly" Brown's Necklace (Maybe)
In 1913, Brown filed a $27,887 insurance claim on property lost in the Titanic disaster. Among the items she claimed were two pairs of slippers, furs, and 14 hats—as well as a $20,000 necklace (about $539,000 today). In 1987, RMST Inc. brought up a Gladstone bag that contained a number of jewels, including a necklace with three unrefined gold nuggets that is believed to have belonged to Brown, whose husband made his money in the mining industry.