Tuesday 21 November 2017

In the salerooms


A section of transatlantic cable
A section of transatlantic cable

The harp on which Maud Gonne once accompanied the recitations of WB Yeats took the starring role at Whyte's auction of History and Literature on May 9. Following a five-minute tussle with a Belfast bidder, the harp was sold to a collector based in Donegal for €37,000.

It was made in London in the early 19th century by the French maker Frederick Grosjean and presented by the poet to his beloved. Gonne McBride later passed it on to her friend Síle MacCurtain who had started a school for harpists in Cork. Movingly, a signed print that shows Father Gleeson giving the last General Absolution to men of the Royal Munster Fusiliers, on the eve of battle, May 8, 1915, was sold for €4,000 to a member of Father Gleeson's family. Among the weaponry included in the sale, an 18th century Spanish rapier, estimated between €200 and €300, sold for €620 and a Confederate Cavalry sabre made €220.


The heady combo of Yeats and Gonne came to the forefront again at Adam's History Sale on May 12 when a letter from the poet to his muse sold for €16,000. The letter was posted from 82 Merrion Square, Dublin on July 13, 1928 along with a copy of Yeats' book.

The modest poet wrote: "You will find a reference to yourself in 'Among School Children' … I do not think it will offend you. The book seems to me the best I have done, it is certainly the most successful."

Among the other top lots, a handbill version of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic, printed during Easter Week within the area controlled by the Volunteers sold for €7,500. Only three other copies of this rare and fragile document are recorded.

A more robust artefact, a section of the Direct United States Cable Company's Transatlantic Cable laid by the Siemens brothers in 1874 more than doubled its upper estimate and sold for €1,100. The cable, which stretched from Ballinskelligs in Co Kerry to Tor Bay in Nova Scotia, and thence to Rye Beach in New Hampshire, was completed in 1875.


An English Military Guinea dated 1813 sold at John Weldon Auctioneers for €150 on May 19 for €2,300 (the guide price was between €1,000 and €1,500). It's a coin with an interesting story behind it.

In 1813, 80,000 guineas were struck to accommodate the Duke of Wellington's army in the Pyrenees, as the local people would accept only gold in payment. This issue has become known as the Military Guinea.

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