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Copyright © 1987 U.P.I.

United Press International

August 6, 1987, Thursday, PM cycle

SECTION: Domestic News

LENGTH: 542 words

HEADLINE: Christie's will sell artifacts from sunken liner


    Salvagers searching a sunken luxury liner for $1.6 billion in gold thought to be aboard say a London auction house has agreed to sell wine and other artifacts already found in the wreck.

Robert Polackwich, president of Sub-Ocean Salvors Inc. of Tampa, Fla. -- a private firm directing the search of the RMS Republic -- signed a contract with Christie's of London Wednesday after meeting with representatives of the auction house.

''It appears they will be handling all the auctionable items,'' Polackwich said. ''They're very excited about the project.''

Polackwich declined to disclose the details of the agreement, but said it was a ''basic contract'' under which Christie's will auction the items recovered after 78 years on the ocean floor off Nantucket, Mass., in return for a percentage of the sale price.

Salvagers have found between 3,000 and 5,000 bottles of wine on the ship -- most of it bottled in Europe before this century. A majority of the wine is still in cases, apparently undisturbed, Polackwich said.

Divers also recovered a crystal vase, an ashtray with the White Star Lines insignia and a porcelain teacup, all of which were shown to Christie's representatives, Polackwich said.

''We did taste a couple of samples of wine,'' Polackwich said. ''They were bottles that were just lying on the ocean floor. ... They appear to be in better condition in the cases.

''We tasted one bottle of white, one bottle of red and one bottle of champagne,'' he said. ''The champagne seemed to be in the best condition, but it wasn't in as good condition as the one opened up aboard (the Inspector) about 10 days ago.''

Martin Bayerle, a partner in the project who is heading the operation on board the boat, described the first bottle of champagne as ''full-bodied,'' and said it tasted very good.

Polackwich estimated the wine could be worth between $1 million and $3 million.

''I don't know how to describe it,'' Polackwich said. ''The colors were good ... but you could tell it was tainted a little bit by salt.''

Another purpose of Wednesday's meeting was to determine when the wine will be recovered by the salvage ship Inspector, said Polackwich.

''They'll bring it up in the next few weeks,'' he said. ''The wines will be recorked when they come up. ... There's a guy up there (aboard the Inspector) who will take out the old corks, attach them to the bottles and put in new corks.''

The cork specialist will be recommended by Christie's and employed by the salvage team, Polackwich said.

The wine was found late last month in a pantry on the ship's second deck, near where divers believe the gold is stashed.

The Republic was rumored to be carrying $3.5 million in American gold eagle coins when it went down in 280 feet of water 14 hours after leaving New York for the Mediterranean.

The gold coins -- headed to Czarist Russia as aid from the French government -- could be worth between $400 million and $1.6 billion today, salvagers said.

The Republic sank 55 miles off Nantucket on Jan. 23, 1909, after colliding with the Florida, carrying Italian immigrants. Two people on the Republic and four on the Florida died, but a thousand Republic passengers transferred to the Florida, which limped to New York.

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