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Saturday 21 September 2019

Joyce's iconic eye wear goes up for auction

The glasses behind James Joyce’s vision of the world when he was writing ‘Ulysses’ could fetch €15,000 when they go under the hammer next month.
The glasses behind James Joyce’s vision of the world when he was writing ‘Ulysses’ could fetch €15,000 when they go under the hammer next month.

Sarah Slater

A pair of spectacles worn by James Joyce while he was writing his masterpiece Ulysses are to go under the hammer next month.

The original set of eye wear sparked a fashion trend for pince-nez glasses which even in Joyce's time were a slightly unusual choice.

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Pince-nez spectacles have a nose clip and those worn by Joyce came replete with gilt fittings and chain.

They are conservatively estimated to be worth up to €15,000 and, given the huge level of interest, could easily achieve a price well above that.

The lot is being sold by Fonsie Mealy Auctioneers and are in good condition. They come with a velvet- lined Morocco leather case from a Dublin optician, Yeates & Co.

George Mealy, based in Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny, said: "The glasses are a tangible link to Joyce and they give the world a vision of what Joyce was seeing while writing Ulysses. Indeed, they provide a chance to look through Joyce's eyes. To have the spectacles back out in the public eye is exciting.

The glasses behind James Joyce’s vision of the world when he was writing ‘Ulysses’ could fetch €15,000 when they go under the hammer next month.
The glasses behind James Joyce’s vision of the world when he was writing ‘Ulysses’ could fetch €15,000 when they go under the hammer next month.

"From the collection of close boyhood friend Thomas Pugh, of the famous glassmaking family, who also had eye issues, the glasses have an impeccable provenance. It's a wonderful item.

"The glasses are being sold by the Pugh family and there has been significant interest from China, Japan, Australia and the US. Joyce's passport from the same era as the glasses sold in Sotheby's more than three years ago for €88,000."

Joyce had trouble with his eyes from early adulthood, as did Pugh, who became blind in his latter years. The pair of pince-nez was gifted to Pugh on one of his visits to Joyce in Paris."

Ulysses was first serialised in the American journal, The Little Review, from March 1918 to December 1920, and then published in its entirety in Paris by Sylvia Beach on February 2, 1922 on Joyce's 40th birthday.

For years even the most eminent biographers of writer James Joyce have believed he was severely short-sighted.

But evidence that emerged in 2011 proved that diagnosis wrong. In fact, he suffered from far-sightedness, not short-sightedness. The diagnosis was revealed in the British Medical Journal after closer inspection of his prescription glasses.

Joyce, who died in 1941, had delicate health and the Spanish and Dutch researchers pointed out that, "in particular, his failing eyesight were a constant liability in his life and continued to affect and complicate the composition of his work".

Two autographed letters sent by Joyce to Pugh, both dated 1934, thanking him for sending photographs of Dublin along with an invitation to his home in Paris, are also for sale with respective guide prices of €6,000 and €8,000.

The eclectic mix of rare books and manuscripts will also excite poetry lovers, especially Lot 666. Written by William Butler Yeats, this second edition The Wanderings of Oisin; Dramatic Sketches, Ballads & Lyrics, from 1892 is one of just 100 copies made and is guided at up to €8,000. It is dedicated to Maud Gonne.

Mr Mealy added: "It is the earliest known manuscript association between Yeats and Gonne. This copy is superbly inscribed in Yeats's hand, 'To My friend Maud Gonne W.B. Yeats May 19 1892'. It's a wonderful memento of a loving friendship, which dominated Yeats's early life and inspired much of his greatest poetry."

The sale includes much to interest historians including a contemporaneous manuscript eyewitness account of The Fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453, estimated at between €50,000 and €70,000.

It was written by Leonard of Chios less than three months after the fall of the city.

"The manuscript was a recent discovery found on a book shelf by the owners of one of Ireland's finest stately homes. It is a most significant find."

The auction takes place on December 4 in The Talbot Hotel, Stillorgan, Dublin.

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