James Fenwick, a passenger onboard the SS Carpathia when it rescued survivors from the sinking Titanic in 1912, grabbed a survival kit that had come from the Titanic with a cracker in it. He saved the cracker, a Spillers and Bakers Pilot biscuit, in a plastic envelope and last week the cracker was auctioned off for $23,000.
This true story, almost too strange to be believable if placed in fiction, provides a lot of food for thought, and raises a plethora of questions. This odd event is so full of wonder as to render a person speechless, nearly unable to utter a word in response.
What can you say about a 103-old cracker that turns out to be probably the most expensive cracker ever made? Unlike virtually all crackers ever made, this cracker has risen to the status of an historical artifact.
Does this story offer a lesson? Is there some spark of enlightenment we can pull from this? I'm having difficulty making any sense of it, or deriving any sort of general guiding principle from it.
Here is a cracker that no one will ever be able to eat (who would dare bite into a 103-year old cracker?) And yet it's a million times more valuable than a comparable fresh and edible cracker just made today.
What is the purpose of this cracker? What gives it such value? What will the new owner of the cracker do with it? Will he exhibit it in public? Lend it to museums? Or will he save it for just his friends to see?
Presumably it will be mounted somewhere so people can look at it. They can look into the glass case and marvel at the fact that is perhaps the sole surviving cracker from the Titanic. As they gaze at it, they may perhaps try to imagine the history of the cracker, and the world in which it was made, the world of the great Titanic.
In their imaginations they may see the whole grandeur of the Titanic grow up around the tiny cracker.
And they may ponder its long voyage to the auction block 103 years after the sinking of the ship.
If only that cracker could talk.
And another thing, what kind of person has $23,000 to spend on an antique cracker? What else might he have done with that money? What drove him to bid that much money for the privilege of owning this unique artifact?
You can buy a 14 ounce box of Ritz Crackers today for $2.50. There are innumerable crackers in a 14-ounce box. If we estimate that there are 250 crackers in the box, a reasonable estimate, then each cracker costs about a penny in today's money.
The cost of the Titanic cracker at $23,000 is roughly 2.3 million more than the cost of a comparable cracker today.
2,300,000 crackers could last half a lifetime. If you ate 20 crackers a day it would take 35 years to eat that many crackers. If you ate hundreds of crackers a day, the supply would still last for many years. If you shared them, you could feed many people.
But those crackers wouldn't have the glow, the magic of the historic Titanic cracker.
From the standpoint of an investment, this one paid off handsomely, even if it did take 103 years to mature.
If you took the equivalent amount of money and put it into a savings account at today's rates it would grow at approximately 0.11 percent per year.
1 cent growing at one tenth of 1 percent would grow to 1.1 cent the first year. The second year it would jump up to about 1.2 cents. But here we have a cracker that grew in value from 1 cent to $23,000 in 103 years.
One conclusion you might draw from the event is next time you go on a cruise ship, be sure to stash some goodies like that from the ship, just in case (God forbid) your ship sinks or in some other way becomes a historical event. If you have the presence of mind to save those crackers, your descendants 100 years hence may be very grateful.
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