Poke around for the cash in your attic
From an old newspaper to a china vase, things lying around your home might have surprising worth, finds Roisin Burke
THE Duke of Devonshire has done a massive attic clearout. And you can only have sympathy for his Dukeness.
"When we moved into Chatsworth several years ago we realised that we were very short of space," he lamented in a recent interview.
This despite Chatsworth House having 297 rooms.
Sotheby's will auction some €3m-worth of the peer's forgotten treasures this October.
Things that were stashed away for years will be sold, including a bookcase with a secret door used by King George IV to meet his mistress, and property from Lismore Castle in Co Waterford, which the Devonshire family owns. Other items on the catalogue include 'ducal loo seats', china cups and a marble chimney piece.
The late Princess Diana's brother, Earl Spencer, also recently did a clearout of his Althorp estate, flogging everything from a Rubens masterpiece and ancient footmen's liveries to an antique silver baby's rattle.
It's not just the British aristocracy that can convert stuff they have lying around the place into cash. In March a Co Carlow family got a surprise windfall when their Chinese vase sold for €110,000 at auction. It had been valued at just €150.
Right now it's definitely a buyer's market, but a clearout that yields something special could give your finances a boost.
"Quality items in all fields -- painting, furniture, silver, porcelain -- are sought after and continue to make strong prices," says Jane Beattie of Adam's auctioneers, "due to their scarcity and the reluctance of vendors to release their art assets on to the open market. With the rising value of precious metals, the current market for silver, gold and jewellery is buoyant."
It's not just antiques that are worth money -- many auction houses are interested in newer things that attract collectors.
Books and ephemera
"There's a solid market if you have something rare or interesting to sell," says George F Mealy of Mealy's Auctioneers.
That might be a pamphlet from the 1916 rising, which could fetch €100 or so, to an original 1916 proclamation that could go for over €150,000.
Letters, even very mundane ones, can be worth money if they have the right signature, such as one signed by WB Yeats or Douglas Hyde.
"Even if it just says 'I'll see you on Tuesday' it's the signature that's significant," says Mealy.
Then there are major ones, such as the recently auctioned Kevin Barry letter, written the night before he was hanged, which sold for over €100,000 in April.
Posters, postcards, maps, old GAA medals and programmes, autography albums, early newspapers, old money, both notes and coins: "These are things that can be lying in people's attics for years without them realising their worth," Mealy says.
Even relatively recent documents can be valuable at auction. "A newspaper with a headline announcing the assassination of JFK, or the death of Eamon de Valera, or the Moon landing, a football jersey signed by George Best, or a glove signed by Muhammad Ali -- there's nostalgia for the more recent things."
A limited-edition book with a dedication by someone well known could be worth money, "say a signed first edition with a dedication from Erskine Childers to Robert Barton, or one from Padraig Pearse to Willie Pearse".
One of the first English editions of Ulysses, signed by James Joyce, is among the books Mealy's put up for auction at its Co Kilkenny rooms last week. Its next books/ephemera auction is in December. See www.mealys.com for more.
"Period silver, especially 18th-century Dublin and provincial silver, is fetching healthy prices," Beattie says.
"In line with current fashion, the preference is generally for simple elegant Georgian style, with particular interest in items that are useful in modern households, such as flatware, salvers, serving trays, sauce boats, salt cellars etc. These are things that not only hold their value, but that people can use."
Adam's has noted increased interest lately in period Chinese porcelain and objets d'art, "in line with international markets and the strength of Chinese domestic buyers".
Old or new, the value of jewellery has been rocketing since the recession kicked in, as investers look to put money into precious metals. Gold particularly is seen as an old reliable to buy when times are dicey.
"It's in demand at a very high price simply because there's so much financial uncertainty," says John Weldon of John Weldon Auctioneers.
For some of his buyer clients, gold has become a refuge when investing in banks and the markets has let them down.
"I have one client who spends €5,000-€6,000 a month with me on gold," he says. "His Bank of Ireland and AIB shares are decimated, and he wants to buy something that will keep its value in 10 years' time, and there are no management fees."
The newly divorced or jilted can turn their unwanted engagement rings into money.
"We buy a huge amount of solitaire diamond rings," says Weldon, "usually the result of engagements having broken up, or divorces. There's a steady flow -- we have about 10 or 15 girls a week coming in to sell their engagement rings. Then people are quite happy to buy them and take the stone out or redesign the ring."
He recently bought a ring worth close to €22,000 from an ex-fiance after a broken engagement.
The downside if you're selling is that, just as driving your car off the forecourt instantly knocks thousands off its value, a diamond ring is worth a lot less when you resell it -- as much as a third less than the original price.
While "there's less big money out there among buyers", the right jewellery item can rack up a good price, Weldon says. "A little Thirties Rolex watch valued at €200 in a recent auction went for €1,100, though the winder was missing and the face was cracked."
Weldon's is taking in items for its next auction, on August 10. See www. johnweldonauctioneers.com
"There has been a drop overall in the painting market," Beattie has found, "but strong prices continue to be achieved for the best works by desirable and bankable Irish artists." Those selling well at the moment include Paul Henry, Colin Middleton, William Scott, and Sir John Lavery. With a major new Lavery exhibition just open in the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin, interest in the portrait artist has risen.
Adam's is valuing paintings for its next Irish art auction in October. See www.adams.ie for contacts.
Unless you have a gem of an antique that hasn't been restored, this is definitely not a seller's market. "The antique market has fallen way back in light of the recession," says Raymond Wilkinson of Herman Wilkinson Auction Rooms
"Then again, if someone has something unusual and special it will command a good price, such as an old piece of Georgian furniture that's untouched."
If you've got a very old piece of furniture that you think could be a valuable antique, don't polish it or do it up in any way, he advises. "If you're thinking of selling a piece, you're better off to leave it alone, don't get it restored. The standard bit of restored Victorian furniture -- no one wants it at the moment."
Herman Wilkinson has an antique sale coming up on August 26. See www.hermanwilkinson.ie