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Copyright © 1988 U.P.I.

United Press International

June 12, 1988, Sunday, AM cycle

SECTION: Domestic News

LENGTH: 453 words


    Collectors snapped up emeralds and gold from a sunken Spanish galleon and bottles of champagne from the luxury liner RMS Republic Sunday, but auctioneers received no bids for the star of the show -- the $1 million yacht Columbia.

About 3,000 people attended the unusual auction at the Museum of Yachting, which offered everything from the sunken treasure to paintings, antique cars and yachts.

''This kind of thing has never been sold before,'' said Arlan Ettinger, president of Guernsey's, the New York auction house overseeing the two-day event, which began Saturday.

Tiny gold bars from the Spanish vessel Atocha, which sank off Florida in 1622, sold for $7,000 apiece, while half a dozen emeralds recovered from the same wreck sold for between $2,000 and $3,000 each, Ettinger said.

A bell from the Civil War ironclad Merrimack fetched only about $8,000 ''because there was not enough documentation to convince some people of its authenticity,'' Ettinger said.

Several antique autos, including Rolls Royces, went for between $20,000 and $50,000 each, he said.

Collectors also snapped up cut glass decanters and ''hundreds'' of bottles of corked champagne from the Republic, which sank near Nantucket island off the Massachusetts coast in 1909 after colliding with the SS Florida, killing six people.

A $2 million project was conducted last summer to find $1.6 billion in gold coins rumored to be on board the ship, the sister ship of the Titantic. Divers never found the gold, but recovered porcelain, Dresden china from Germany, dinnerware with the White Star Lines emblem, silver plated tea kettles and ship fixtures.

Ettinger had no immediate estimate on the proceeds from the auction, a portion of which will be donated to the museum.

No bids were received for the 112-foot yacht Columbia, the sister vessel of the presidential yacht Sequoia, which was built in 1931 for Mrs. Helen hay Whitney.

But Ettinger, whose firm has a reputation for auctioning off almost anything, from an entire amusement park to Fidel Castro's cigars, said unidentified buyers had expressed interest.

''The Columbia is a $1 million yacht and it does appear that we're close to consummating a sale,'' he said.

There were also no bidders for the two other major vessels up for sale -- the Azor, a 1925 motor yacht owned by Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, and the America II, a semifinalist in last year's challenger series for the America's Cup, he said.

The Stardust, a 90-foot yacht scheduled to be auctioned off, had to be towed into port near the Chesapeake Bay, after taking on water during its trip up the East Coast, he said.

''One of the items couldn't come because it was sinking,'' said Ettinger.

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