Fur sale: 'glam' coats that could save a life
Ireland's fine arts, antiques and collectables column
Maureen O'Hara was ahead of her time. "Because I don't let the producer and director kiss me every morning or let them paw me, they have spread word around town that I am not a woman - that I am a cold piece of marble statuary," she said to a journalist from The Mirror, New York in 1945.
"If that's Hollywood's idea of being a woman, I'm ready to quit now."
O'Hara spoke out against the culture of sexual harassment in Hollywood but she didn't quit the industry. She went on to become one of the greatest stars of Hollywood's Golden Age. She died two years ago, at the age of 95, and a selection of her belongings is coming up for sale in Sheppard's Dublin & Provincial Sale, on November 28-29. The collection includes examples of two of Hollywood's most powerful talismans: jewellery and fur coats.
Like most Hollywood actresses of the era, O'Hara wore furs.
So did Greta Garbo, Marilyn Monroe, and Lauren Bacall. Fur coats were a symbol of female sexuality, status, and power. Dropped to the floor, they puddled like water.
Wrapped around bare shoulders, they looked as though the wearer required no other clothes.
At the time, the connection between fur and cruelty wasn't in the public consciousness (any more than sexual harassment was).
Even Brigitte Bardot, who later became an animal rights activist, was photographed wearing fur.
Maureen O'Hara's furs and jewellery came to auction via her daughter, Bronwyn Fitzsimons, who lived in Co Cork. When Fitzsimons died last year, the items went to an Irish collector who is now selling them at Sheppard's.
"Maureen O'Hara is one of the most glamorous actresses of all time," says Philip Sheppard. "The Quiet Man is an iconic Irish movie and she was an iconic Irish movie star. She was Queen of the Screen for half a century. That will be reflected in the way the pieces perform."
Of the two fur coats in the sale, one is a Christian Dior cream-coloured mink, trimmed with arctic fox (est €3,000 to €5,000); the other, designed by Sam Lou of Paris, is sable (est €4,000 to €6,000).
Furs were glamorous but, on a cold day, they could also save your life.
When Mabel Bennett, first class stewardess, fled the Titanic, she grabbed her fur coat. The coat protected her from the cold as she climbed into a lifeboat, which was picked up by the Carpathia. Later, on the return voyage to England, she was photographed among Titantic's other surviving stewardesses. She was still wearing the coat. On April 22 of this year, Mabel Bennett's coat went under the hammer at Henry Aldridge's Titanic Auction in Wiltshire. It sold for £180,000 (€204,248). That's the world record for an item from a member of Titanic's crew and the third highest price ever paid for a piece of Titanic memorabilia.
Fur coats have always been associated with money.
So does that mean that you're going to make a mint from your granny's treasured mink? Sadly, that's unlikely.
"The finer furs, like Russian sable, are collectible," says Kerry Taylor, an auctioneer who specialises in vintage clothing. "But we get offered a lot of dark brown mink. It's not particularly sought after." First, she suggests, check the condition. "Crispy fur isn't very nice." Once you've made sure that your fur coat is neither bald nor moulting, try to establish what animal it came from.
"Your local furrier will be able to tell you if your coat is actually mink, or whether it's glorified rabbit."
Another issue with vintage furs is that many people don't like wearing dead animals. It takes lots of small furry creatures to make a coat and the industry is a harsh one.
So is pig farming, but munching a sausage is a less public form of collusion than flaunting a fur. Some will have no problem wearing fur, so long as it's vintage. You might feel sorry for the animals but their troubles are over. Others avoid fur at all costs.
"When it comes to wearing real fur, it doesn't matter if the animal was killed yesterday or 50 years ago," says Elisa Allen, director of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Foundation (PETA).
"Every single fur coat, cuff, or collar - new or old - came from living beings who experienced pain and fear." It's a legitimate point of view, but it does leave you stuck with granny's mink.
So what do you do with a fur coat that you can't sell and don't want to wear?
One option is to donate it to a refugee agency that works with people living in a cold climate.
"Only people truly struggling to survive have any excuse for wearing old furs," Allen says.
Another solution, pioneered by the charity Coats for Cubs in the US, is to donate old furs to help in the rehabilitation of injured and orphaned animals. The furs are sent to wildlife rehabilitation centres where they are used to make cosy natural beds for recovering critters.
But if you want some of that furry star appeal, Sheppard's Dublin & Provincial Auction, which includes the O'Hara Collection, takes place in The Square, Durrow, Co Laois, on November 28-29 with full details on sheppards.ie. See also kerrytaylorauctions.com.
For contact details of wildlife rehabilitation centres in Ireland see irishwildlifematters.ie. You can also donate furs by post to peta.org in the UK
In the Salerooms
Art Deco was the coolest 20th century art form. Its straight lines and graceful geometries have really stood the test of time. You can't say the same for smoking though. Cigarettes looked cool in the 1930s. Now, not so much. There's an Art Deco cigarette case in 18ct gold (est €4,500 to €6,500) in O'Reilly's next auction of Fine Jewellery, Watches & Silver, which takes place on November 22 at 1pm. It's one of a fine selection of Art Deco pieces, which include a cabochon sapphire and diamond openwork bracelet (est €9,500 to €10,000); a sapphire and Art Deco plaque brooch (pictured), centred on a fine oval sapphire (est €5,000 to €9,000); and an Art Deco diamond and onyx ring, mounted in platinum (est €3,000 to €5,000). There is also a luxurious lady's Art Deco watch (€2,000 to €3,000) set in a diamond-encrusted surround. The numbers on the dial are pure 1920s. There are also some accessible pieces in the sale, including an Art Deco emerald and diamond bar brooch (est €300 to €500). See oreillysfineart.com.
You can't accuse the artist Brendan Jamison of sugar-coating his artwork. Some of his sculptures are sugar, all the way through. Jamison carves sugar cubes into complex forms by manipulating them with blades, using glue to bind the granules (which might otherwise soften). One of these pieces, Doorway No 10 Downing Street (est €3,000 to €5,000), a 51cm-high sugar cube sculpture in Perspex box, is coming up for auction at Adam's on November 22. A version of this sculpture has been on display inside the real life door of No 10 Downing St since 2012. It was made using 5,117 sugar cubes and took two months to complete. For some of his sculptures, Jamison publishes nutritional information. His Pinnacle Tower, for example, is built from 1,980 sugar cubes x 10 calories = 19,800 calories. Adam's auction of Important Irish Art takes place on November 22 at 6pm. The majority of works are non calorific. See adams.ie.
Herman & Wilkinson
Asian art comes from such a different aesthetic tradition than ours that it can be hard to know the good from the excellent. Herman & Wilkinson's Asian Art Auction, on November 20 at 6.30pm, promises many surprises. Most of the 200 lots are Chinese with other pieces from Japan and Korea. Pieces of interest include: a Chinese monochrome Qianlong-style double gourd vase with a flared rim, decorated under the turquoise glaze with a five-clawed dragon in flight amongst the clouds; a Japanese carved ebonised specimen chest, "with an all over asymmetrical carved design held within vignettes of fans and clouds"; and a Chinese Ming-style "mutton fat" jade thumb ring with a carved bird emerging from the band. "Mutton fat" jade is a translucent nephrite. Despite the name it's highly prized. See hermanwilkinson.ie.