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Going postal - Auctioneers see rise in lifelong stamps collections

Ireland's Fine Arts, antiques and collectables column


A humorous card for Ambrine

A humorous card for Ambrine

A Home Rule card

A Home Rule card


A humorous card for Ambrine

Could collecting be good for the brain? Ian Whyte, auctioneer, certainly hopes so. He's been collecting stamps since the age of seven and he's noticed that there's a particular type of mental effort involved in building a collection.

"There are certain types of collecting - medals and militaria, postcards, coins and stamps - where you need to study the thing quite closely. You have to observe, organise, and categorise. You learn to recognise patterns and to remember where you've seen something before." All of this, he argues, must surely be good for mental health.

Although the evidence for the mental health benefits of collecting is purely anecdotal, Whyte has observed a lot of very alert older people coming through his door over the years. "It's funny how many of our clients in the 70-to-90 age bracket are very active in the collecting of things that require research and knowledge," he says, admitting that not all areas of collecting require such mental agility. "The other type of collecting is just about acquiring nice things and putting them in your house. I don't imagine that does a lot for your brain."

Tomorrow's auction at Whyte's - the Seamus Kearns Postcard Collection - is a prime example of the type of collecting that would keep you sharp. The sale is entirely devoted to a collection of 100,000 picture postcards amassed by Seamus Kearns (1929-2014). With a total estimated value of €50,000 to €70,000, the collection is divided into nearly 500 lots, each containing between 10 and 3,000 cards. Estimates run from €50 to €3,000. Cataloguing them has been a labour of love. "I wish I'd had the time to break them down into smaller lots," says Whyte, who has spent around 300 hours sorting through the postcards. "Hopefully we'll find some nice homes for them."


A Home Rule card

A Home Rule card

A Home Rule card

Postcard collecting, or deltiology, requires a particular type of mental acuity. That's because, unlike coins or stamps, picture postcards were produced in a completely unregulated manner. This can make it difficult to identify the time and place of production. "Imagine that you find an unidentified postcard," Whyte explains. "It's a streetscape and it looks Irish but you're not quite sure where it is. Sometimes the clue will be in the postmark - a card that was posted in Kilkenny is very likely of that place - so you have to try and find a place that matches up, bearing in mind that the landscape may have changed significantly since the picture was taken." (See Katy McGuinness's story above for more.)

Seamus Kearns began collecting picture postcards in the 1950s and never stopped.

"He was one of the last great collectors of that type," Whyte remembers. They first met in 1966 when Whyte joined the Irish Philatelic Society.

"He was once of my first customers when I started to deal in stamps. Then he moved on to postcards and automatically bought every album I could get for him." Kearns became a significant figure in the world of collecting. He was a founder member of the Irish Picture Postcard Society and his collection was used in exhibitions around the country, including a major show at The Guinness Hopstore in 1994. Like most collectors, Kearns began with topographical cards. He collected picture postcards of the Phoenix Park, in Dublin, where he loved to walk and a selection of 250 of these is included in the sale (Lot 107: est. €150 to €200). Kearns also collected postcards of his native Co Monaghan, potentially valuable because of their rarity. Obviously scenic destinations, like Killarney and Co Wicklow, generated many more postcards than Carrickmacross, Castleblaney and Clones.

Kearns also collected political postcards and the sale includes several lots relating to the 1916 Rising. A collection of real photographic cards (Lot 343: est. €200 to €300) includes one of Liberty Hall showing a banner: "JAMES CONNOLLY MURDERED MAY 12th 1916." Real photographic cards were printed in limited numbers on photographic paper and consequently rare. A selection of portraits of lesser known 1916 leaders (Lot 360: est. €120 to €180) has two triple portraits of Enniscorthy leaders and may fill a gap in someone's collection. There is also a collection of Unionist Anti-Home Rule postcards, showing a level of political vitriol that puts the Brexit in the shade.

Postcards were also used for advertising. A side-splitting card advertising Ambrine, a treatment for burns (in Lot 391: est. €250 to 350), shows an entire extended family who have each managed to injure themselves. Kearns liked humorous cards, ranging from the gentle paddywhackery of artists like John Carey (in Lot 317: est. €200 to €300) to British seaside smut. "Saucy postcards first emerged in the 1920s," Whyte explains. "There was always innuendo but it gets more blatant in the 1960s and 1970s. Some of them are quite funny but they'd all be outlawed now!"

Viewing continues at Whyte's Molesworth Street galleries today until 5pm. The auction begins tomorrow at The Freemasons Hall, 17 Molesworth Street at 1pm.

See whytes.ie.


In the salerooms

John Weldon Auctioneers

In 1914, Joseph Redmond Diver was too young to fight in the First World War. He lied about his age and enlisted under the name of Albert Wheeler. On July 14, 1916 he was killed in action, aged 19, and still using a false name.

His medals and a death plaque, all under the name of Wheeler (est. €200 to €300) go under the hammer at John Weldon Auctioneers on Tuesday. The auction begins at 2pm and includes a number of high value diamond rings, notably a fine diamond single stone set with diamond shoulders (est. €28,000 to €32,000) and a fine three stone diamond ring set in platinum (est. €14,000 to €18,000). There is also an 18ct gold John Donegan pocket watch (est. €400 to €600) hallmarked Dublin 1854. "This is one of those pieces that I would describe as rare as hens' teeth. It's in mint condition," Weldon says. Viewing is tomorrow. See jwa.ie.


Nineteenth-century gentlemen were high maintenance, at least in terms of grooming. The gilded, fitted interior of a gentleman's travelling vanity case (Lot 630: est. €100 to €150) has an impressive array of bottles, brushes, combs, shaving accoutrements and unspeakable gadgets. It goes under the hammer on Tuesday at 10.30am as part of Sheppard's Décor Decoded auction in Durrow, Co Laois.

The sale includes some interesting pieces of furniture. On the fancy side, twin Italian carved four-poster single beds are painted in circus colours, each with a serpentine headboard (Lot 427: est. €1500 to €2500), while two 19th-century Louis XVI style gilt armchairs (Lot 495: est. €400 to 600) offer the gilded plush associated with the era. On the plain, an 18th-century oak farmhouse table (Lot 313: est. €800 to €1,200) nearly two and a half metres long. Viewing from tomorrow to Monday, 10am to 5pm. See sheppards.ie


Specialist valuation days at Bonhams continue with an Asian Art Valuation Day on Tuesday, where specialist Sing Yan will be available to provide valuations on any Asian art you might be considering selling. It's followed on Wednesday by an Islamic & Indian Art Valuation Day. The valuations take place at Bonhams Ireland, 31 Molesworth Street, Dublin 2. Valuations are free, and there's no obligation to sell, but you have to book. Contact ireland@bonhams.com or (01) 602 0990.

Indo Property