RARE BOOK GUIDE - THE RUNNERS, THE RIDERS & THE ODDS
08 May 2007
The Wreck of the Titan + Titanicana
Above is the frontispiece to the book we dealt with in our last piece 'Titanic' by Filson Young said to be the first book published about the tragedy. Below the ship is the exact map position of where it happened, although when they found the wreck 73 years later it was a few miles from there. In the same year of 1912 there were at least a dozen further books, also poems, broadsides and sheet music. There is also a healthy trade in newspapers announcing the sinking with the ones nearest to the wreck being the most valuable; they appear on ebay alot and can make $500 or quite a bit more. Newspaper reports of great events are not always scarce because they tend to be hoarded from the get-go.
Morgan Robertson. FUTILITY (THE WRECK OF THE TITAN.) McKinlay, Stone & Mackenzie, New York 
Current Selling Prices
FANTASY FICTION / MARITIME DISASTERS
in 1898 Robertson wrote of the sinking of a British ocean liner, 800 feet long, with triple expansion engines, two masts and three screws. This fictional ship was the largest most luxurious ever built and was considered unsinkable. She was racing across the Atlantic in the month of April at high speed when she collided with an iceberg off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland near midnight. Despite her many watertight compartments, the ship foundered very quickly and almost everyone was lost, due in no small part to a completely insufficient number of lifeboats.
The name of Robertson’s fictional ship was the Titan. At first this seemed so incredibly prophetic that people doubted the existence of the earlier edition. It is very rare but it certainly exists and was seen, for example, by Martin Gardner (The Wreck of the Titanic Foretold? ) who points out the many differences between the book and real life event - The Titan was filled to capacity, for example, while the Titanic was barely half full. Titanic’s last night was clear and cloud free, the Titan was racing through heavy fog. The survival rate between the two is also very different. On Titanic, roughly a third of the people survived, while the Titan went down with just about everyone aboard, there were only thirteen survivors.
The whole thing is not helped by Robertson, never one to let a good thing go, re-issuing the book in 1912 and again later with new up to date details from the event. It is the 1912 and later issues that turn up - renamed 'Futility, or The Wreck of the Titan.' The book is listed in Bleiler under the categories 'fantastic stories, imaginary wars and inventions.' 5 other titles by Robertson are listed with categories such as 'Feral Man' and Personality Exchange' although most seem to have sea going themes.
Robertson is also credited with inspiring Edgar Rice Burroughs to create Tarzan, through the pair of 1898 stories,' Primordial' and 'Three Laws and the Golden Rule.'
In 1926 Howard M Chapin issued in 50 copies 'Bibliotheca Titanicana. A List of Books relating to the Loss of S. S. Titanic.' There were 50 copies and it appears to be a valuable book in itself, possibly $600+. It indicates the extent of collecting interest already established in Titanic books. Other 1912 books include L.H. Walter 'Sinking of the Titanic: The World's Greatest Sea-Disaster' and Everett Marshall 'Wreck and Sinking of the Titanic: The Ocean's Greatest Disaster'. The latter can be picked up in good shape for circa $100 but Walter's book is scarce and worth a deal more.
Some Titanic books are true sleepers. We sold the following title 4 years ago on Ebay for circa $500 'Memorials of Henry Forbes Julian...also Letters from the Titanic and the Carpathia' by Hester Pengelly Julian (London 1914). Julian, a distinguished Irish engineer went down on the Titanic and the book has several chapters on this and includes letters he sent from the ship. Ours was a superior copy as I recall.
You could, if you were a total Titanic completist, collect his Forbes Julians published books like 'Cyaniding Gold and Silver Ores (1904) - also books by writers such as Jacques Futrelle and W.T. Stead, who both drowned. Stead wrote several books warning against such shipping disaters all very collectable and dealt with (and reprinted) in Martin Gardner's book. Both Stead and Futrelle wrote fantasy fiction- one wonders if they met on board. It's an endless field- a serious collection of Titanicana would probably fill a mid size truck; even a lesser disaster like the Marie Celeste generated a sizeable tranche of books.
Works of art also went down on the Titanic, including the legendary Sangorski Omar Khayam known as 'The Great Omar'- it took 2 years work and may have looked something like the images above and below. This was said to be the most sumptuous jeweled binding ever undertaken - with its 'gold leaf blazing and the light flashing from hundreds of gemstones studding the tails of the peacocks on the cover'. Sangorski have done several others since, including these 2, but the lost one was supposed to be the finest. Other book related casualties include some of the finest work of the illustrator Nannie Preston, a gifted artist whose work was mainly in lantern slides - her set of illustrations for Pilgrim's Progress went down with the Titanic.
VALUE? I am making a stab at the value of the Morgan Robertson book. It should be remembered that in the main Titanic collectors want facts and MR's book is a curiosity, however remarkable. Poems and song sheets tend to stay in the low hundreds of dollars, whereas newspaper and periodicals do very well. 'The Journal of Commerce Report of the British Official Inquiry into the Circumstances Attending the loss of the R.M.S. Titanic' a 1912 report in mediocre condition made circa $2000 in an Irish auction 2 years ago. A 1912 copy of 'The Deathless Story of the Titanic' by Philip Gibbs in Lloyd's Weekly News signed by 5 child survivors made $600 in 2001. Edwin Drew's 'The Chief Incidents of the "Titanic" Wreck treated in Verse' (1912) made £80 in 2002. A fascinating but volatile and unpredictable market that shows no signs of abating. There are several thousand Titanic related items for sale every day at Ebay, not all of it trash, kitsch or movie related. [ W/Q ** ]