According to an article at Smithsonianmag.com, its history can only be dated back to 1988 when it was discovered it was found in an envelope marked “This is 86 years old.” Apparently the paper stock and ink match the time period at issue. But due to lost records (from Titanic)it cannot be verified it was sent from the ship. Nor is their any proof that it was actually delivered to White Star Line in New York independent of the telegram. Nor can it be ascertained who saw it if it was in fact delivered. One interesting note from the Smithsonian write-up: it failed to sell at auction on Saturday.
A telegram up for auction appears to show the White Star Line office in New York was informed of the sinking by Titanic. The Western Union telegram is dated 15 April 1912 and is addressed to P.A. Franklin at the White Star Offices in New York. The telegram reads:
CQD CQD SOS SOS = From MGY (RMS Titanic)=
WE HAVE STRUCK ICEBERG=SINKING FAST=COME TO OUR ASSIST=POSITION: LAT 41.46 N=LON 50.14 W. MGY
The telegram was part of a collection of telegraphy items and not Titanic. It is making news since it is being put up for auction at Heritage Auctions in Dallas, Texas this weekend. The telegram would appear to contradict sworn testimony by Philip Franklin who stated that no communication had reached their office while the ship was sinking. Of course we all know about the mangled telegrams that appeared to give false hope Titanic was afloat and passengers safe. And Franklin’s statements early on reflected those sentiments (till the truth was learned).
Assuming the telegram to be genuine, why would Franklin lie? With the exact position he could immediately inform the authorities. Perhaps by the time it arrived it was too late to do anything about it (like what happened at Pearl Harbor when the attack warning was sent via Western Union). Or he spoke the truth and never saw this telegram. Many questions arise as to whether this truly originated from Titanic. They did send out a distress call to all ships in the area but would they send a notice to one of their offices? What good would that do if the ship was in immediate danger? The question of who sent the telegram also has to be raised. Nothing in the testimony indicates the wireless operators on Titanic sent a message to White Star Offices.
Rather than leaping to conclusions that Franklin lied to the U.S. inquiry, it might be wise to check all the facts regarding this telegram. Note that in the official description of the telegram, the auction house never says Franklin lies. Nor do they even claim it was delivered and might be a copy. They do believe it is genuine but I think more investigation and study of the telegram itself is in order.
2. Heritage Auctions
From the official description of the telegram at Heritage:
“Since the Marconi office in Cape Race had no facilities to deliver the telegram, it was transmitted to the Western Union office in New York and delivered by messenger to Mr. Franklin at 9 Broadway. This may be the telegram that was delivered, or it may be a retained copy, as we have evidence that these telegrams were sent “2-up”. While it seems certain that the telegram was delivered (or the attempt made), we cannot say for sure whether Franklin saw it in a timely manner, or testified falsely before Congress. There is no contemporary provenance that accompanies the telegram. It was given to the consignor by a cousin around 1998. The cousin’s father had collected old radio and telegraphic equipment. Upon the father’s death, a fellow collector was called in to appraise the collection. The collection was gifted to him. Shortly thereafter, the recipient sent the Titanic telegram to the cousin, as a token of his appreciation. The cousin placed it in an envelope, marking it as an “86-year old telegram” and gave it to the consignor whom he knew to have an interest in Titanic memorabilia. We have examined the telegram extensively and conclude that all characteristics are “right”, including type of paper, method of printing, aging of the paper and look of the typed message (variation in the lightness & darkness of the inked impression, visible signs of the weave of the ribbon). In summary, we are totally satisfied that the telegram is authentic and a new discovery.”