Donna Laub had her pocketbook and was ready to go to a wedding rehearsal dinner when someone stopped her. It was her husband’s cousin, a designer, and he did not approve of Laub’s Coach bag. A minute later, he handed her a replacement. It seemed old, but the cousin said he’d explain in the morning.
The next morning, the cousin dumped out a white trash bag full of antique pocketbooks, a stack of old money, a pair of frail eyeglasses and a sealed envelope. Inside the envelope was one passenger ticket to the RMS Titanic. The name on the ticket was Isidor Straus, the former co-owner of Macy’s department store who died with his wife, Ida, in the ship’s infamous sinking on April 15, 1912.
The items, according to the cousin, originally belonged to Ida Straus, except for the ticket — that belonged to one of Ida’s personal assistants, who would have been responsible for bringing the items onboard the Titanic. Only the assistant never made it onboard.
“For some reason, she didn’t make the ship, but she had these things that belonged to Mrs. Straus,” Laub said.
And so Ida Straus’s items were passed down through generations of the assistant’s family — more than 100 years later — until it came into the possession of Laub’s husband’s cousin’s housekeeper in Buffalo, N.Y. The housekeeper wanted to sell the items. Laub offered $100 for the pocketbooks.
“It was just so fascinating,” Laub said.
Laub had always been fascinated by the Titanic. She had heard her great-grandfather was on the ship when it sank, though she’s never been able to confirm it. And Laub had always been something of a collector. She used to frequent estate sales with a friend. One time, she found an antique bottle of Chanel perfume. The label said it was bottle No. 109.
But the purchase gave the longtime Forsyth County resident some rare collector’s items.
There were the three pocketbooks, one gray and oval-shaped, one long, narrow and brown, another rectangular with an intricate design, all heavy from the speckled metal bead material.
There were the eyeglasses attached to a long, thin metal chain. Laub later bought a book about the Titanic, which included a photo of Isidor and Ida Straus; in it, Ida has a pair of eyeglasses in her lap connected to a long chain around her neck.
And there was an Art Deco powder compact made by Mondaine with a secret: on the front was a small compartment, with a picture of a sophisticated woman drinking a martini, to hold lipstick. Laub found red lipstick still inside.
The items all gave Laub a small peek inside the world of Ida Straus, and she dove in with curiosity. Ida Straus married Isidor in 1871, and he bought Macy’s, along with his brother, in 1895. They were a devoted couple. So devoted, in fact, that when Isidor refused to board a lifeboat while other women and children still remained on the ship, Ida stayed by his side. The couple was last seen standing on the deck of the Titanic with their arms intertwined.
The couple have been memorialized ever since, including in a short scene in James Cameron’s 1997 blockbuster “Titanic” movie.
It was all fascinating to Laub, though she has never flaunted her Ida Straus collection. A few years ago, the Fernbank Museum of Natural History presented an exhibition of items from the Titanic. Laub thought about contacting the museum but decided not to. For the most part, Ida Straus’s three pocketbooks, eyeglasses and powder compact have been wrapped in tissue paper tucked away in Laub’s home.
Laub has considered contacting the Straus family, though she doesn’t know how.
“It’s a great history,” Laub said. “Anyone related to the Straus family would probably enjoy having it. And I didn’t realize just how important it is.”