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Collectibles: Anchor Man

Sheila Gibson Stoodley

The next best thing to exploring the wreck of Titanic might be visiting Peter

Boyd-Smith’s antiques shop, Cobwebs, in Southampton, England. Titanic items

remain especially popular with his clients. He recently sold a chair that might

have come from a restaurant on the doomed ocean liner. He cannot guarantee its

provenance because Titanic and her sister ship, Olympic, had similar

furnishings. But the Jacobean-style oak chair was, he says, “a wreck, in

pieces,” when he acquired it in the 1970s, and its condition indicated its

source. Boyd-Smith knows that White Star, the company that owned and operated

Titanic, removed broken furniture from the ship in the week before it departed

Southampton on its first and final voyage. He had the chair refurbished and kept

it in his office until a Swedish company offered him a significant sum for it

earlier this year. (He will not disclose the amount.)

Titanic is not the

only ocean liner represented in Boyd-Smith’s shop. A cracked porthole from the

wreck of RMS Lusitania, which a German submarine torpedoed off the coast of

Ireland in 1915, lies on the floor, propped against a display case. A large bell

from RMS Majestic sits on a small table. That ocean liner has a convoluted

history: Launched by Germany in June 1914 as SS Bismarck, it was given to the

British as compensation for its World War I losses, and subsequently sailed with

the White Star Line from 1922 to 1934. A life preserver from RMS Caronia, a

Cunard ocean liner that carried passengers between Liverpool, England, and New

York in the early 20th century, hangs near the entrance. An adjacent storefront

houses oversize rarities: the rusted cargo door of the Lusitania and several

wood-framed windows from the first-class lounge of Olympic. Boyd-Smith did

little searching to find these treasures; many of their owners found him.

“Ninety-five percent of my stock,” he says, “walks in through the front

door.”

Boyd-Smith did not intend to specialize in ocean liner memorabilia

when he opened his shop 32 years ago, but when customers kept inquiring about

items from these vessels, he followed the prevailing winds. Boyd-Smith has a

strong relationship with Cunard, the 167-year-old company that owns and operates

Queen Elizabeth 2 and Queen Mary 2. Both vessels display his wares, and he often

serves as a lecturer on Cunard sailings. Boyd-Smith was aboard the QE2 in June

when Cunard announced that it had sold the 40-year-old ship to the government of

Dubai, which will convert it into a floating hotel that will be docked at the

Palm Jumeirah, the world’s largest man-made island. “My first reaction was to

laugh. I literally didn’t believe it,” he says. “I love the QE2, and I’ll miss

it terribly. At least it’s not going to be broken up.”

If the QE2 were to be

dismantled, people would know where to find at least some of its parts. The

production team for the 1997 film Titanic relied on Boyd-Smith’s

inventory—studying items from his gallery and his private collection—to ensure

that their depictions of the ship’s fittings and interiors were accurate.

Boyd-Smith was pleased with the sets and many of the period details, but he

gives the movie a mixed review. “It’s a shame that it’s such an appalling

script,” he says. “And the love scene is absolute rubbish. There is no way that

a first-class and a third-class passenger would ever meet, never mind have an

affair. But [director James Cameron] showed the ship, and he did a good job with

that.” 

Cobwebs, +44.23.80227458, www­.cobwebs.uk.com

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