Wednesday 19 June 2019

Treasures: Cashing in on rare notes

Ireland's fine arts, antiques and collectables column

£20 note with Lady Lavery
£20 note with Lady Lavery
Limerick Soviet notes with pass

Eleanor Flegg

'To speak of the banking system in Ireland is.. as bad as talking about fire to a man who has been burned out and lost all his property in the flames. The scenario may sound familiar, but the quotation comes from JW Gilbart's History of Banking in Ireland, published in 1836. It's followed by a hilarious account of a small privately-owned bank in Killarney, run by the local saddler. When asked for cash in exchange for banknotes of his own issue, the saddler explained that he had no cash at all, but could give the bearer a very nice saddle instead.

Until 1928, Irish paper money wasn't legal tender. Banknotes were merely a note from the local bank, an official sort of IOU. A change in the law in 1825, which allowed the creation of joint stock banks in Ireland, spelled the end of the system. An example of a note from a private bank, a 30 shilling note issued by Gibbons & Williams of Dublin, is included in Whyte's upcoming Eclectic Collector auction (€200 to €300).

The delicate engraving of cattle and pastoral farmland show a gentile kind of prosperity. Later banknote designs indicated that you had to work for your money. By the early 20th century, the field of Irish banking had narrowed to six commercial banks, each issuing their own notes.

All these early Irish banknotes are highly collectible, but there are few with so strange a story as the Limerick Soviet banknote. Issued for a brief period in 1919, Limerick Soviet banknotes come in one shilling, five shilling, and 10 shilling denominations. They carry the inscription "General Strike Against British Militarism. Limerick April 1919" around the edges.

Here's how it happened. On April 9, 1919, most of Limerick City was declared a Special Military Area under the Defence of the Realm Act. The action came against the background of the War of Independence and the general unsettlement following the First World War.

A few days previously, the IRA had attempted to rescue Robert Byrne, a trade unionist and IRA man, from a prison hospital, killing a police officer in the process.

The British Army cracked down, deploying troops and setting up military checkpoints. In reaction, the Limerick Trades and Labour Council called a general strike, which began on April 14. The administration of Limerick was taken over by the strike committee which regulated the prices and distribution of food, published a newspaper, and issued its own banknotes.

The Limerick Soviet lasted for two weeks. The strike was not supported by the trade unions outside the Limerick area and the British Army wisely backed down. A complete set of Limerick Soviet notes, along with a local pass issued by the British Army, sold for €5,000 at Fonsie Mealy Auctioneers on April 23. The young Free State did not issue banknotes until 1929. Previous Irish banknotes were only valid in Ireland. The design is based on Sir John Lavery's painting of his beautiful (and American) wife, Hazel Lavery.

The upcoming sale at Whyte's ranges from a £1 note from the Royal Bank of Ireland (€100 to €120), which looks like it has seen better days, to a £10 note from the Munster & Leinster Bank (€1,500 to €2,000). One of the most interesting notes in this section is a Lady Lavery £20 note issued by the Central Bank of Ireland in 1944 (€3,000 to €4,000). The note carries a "war code", a special random overprint designed to thwart German forgers, who were showing a keen interest in replicating British and American notes. The banknote, in 1944, would have been worth €700.

Whyte's Eclectic Collector Auction takes place on Saturday, May 14 at 1pm ( See also

In the salerooms


The Dublin Painting and Sketching Club will hold its 138th exhibition from Monday to Saturday, May 9-21, at the Concourse Gallery, Dun Laoghaire County Hall.

This year’s exhibition follows the centenary-related theme of 100 Years Of Irish Writing 1916-2016. There are no prizes for guessing the inspiration behind Brid Clarke’s life study entitled Ulysses Molly Bloom, All the Lovely Places We Could Go or Aidan Hickey’s paintings Poldy And Molly On Hodie Head and Leopold And The Pigeons.

Hickey’s painting Crazy Jane And The Bishop takes its inspiration and its name from the series of poems by WB Yeats. Other works follow more topical themes and these include Ursula Klinger’s oil painting The Price Of Hope – No More Money – No More Hope – Here Sails The Armada Of Tears, which references contemporary immigrants in small boats.

Each boat is illustrated as being made of paper money, each in a different currency representing the various immigrants’ countries.

See Dublinpaintingand


The Kinsale Antiques, Art and Vintage Fair, organised by Hibernian Antique Fairs, will take place on Sunday, May 8 in Acton’s Hotel, Kinsale, from 11am to 6pm.

Expect 30 stands with dealers including the Dublin antique dealer JW Weldon who specialises in silver and antique jewellery.

He will be bringing an Art Deco diamond ring, with two large diamond baguettes laid side by side, flanked on either side by three brilliant cut diamonds (pavé set) and with diamond set shoulders (€8,950) and a five carat aquamarine and diamond ring, claw set on white gold (€4,500).

Also on that Sunday, there will be an Antiques Fair in Celbridge Manor Hotel from 11am til 6pm. For more information call 087 2670607.


An 1893 Wexford All-Ireland medal (below) will go under the hammer at Whyte’s Eclectic Collector auction on May 14 where it is expected to sell for between €5,000 and €7,000. A rare example of a 19th century All-Ireland GAA medal, it reflects a time when, instead of county teams, the top club team represented the county. In this case, the gold medal was awarded to Frank Boggan of Young Irelands of Enniscorthy, who met Dromtariffe of Cork in the 1893 final.

It is also an interesting witness to Wexford’s prowess in football. Although the county is now best known for hurling, it was the first county to achieve four All-Ireland senior football championships in a row. Since all of victories occurred before 1920, the All-Ireland medals are particularly rare.

The 1893 medal also marks Wexford’s first All-Ireland success in either football or hurling. Controversially, the match was stopped following injuries to several players during a pitch invasion. The referee tried to restart the match using substitute players but the Cork team refused to continue. The match was awarded to Wexford who led 1-1 to 0-2.

The auctioneers at Whyte’s are also reporting a lot of interest in a book on How to Play Gaelic Football (1914). It was written by Dick Fitzgerald, published in Cork, and is a first edition in overall good condition, illustrated with photographs.

It is estimated to sell between €200 and €300. See

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