Sunday 25 February 2018

Treasures: Mad hatters to have a field day

Ireland's fine arts, antiques and collectables column

Eily Henry hat and accesories
Eily Henry hat and accesories
Eily Henry display - the Waterford dealer recently sold out all their hats at a vintage fair.

Summertime and especially on our hols is when we ladies like to reach for the really big hats. There's a sense of a grand gesture that goes with donning a stylish topper - of going somewhere special or exotic.

But until quite recently, the hat was an icon of conformity. Respectable people didn't leave the house without one. Then along came the 1960s and young people wanted to feel the wind in their hair. Within half a generation, the hat had become the preserve of old ladies, oddballs and the British Royal Family.

But now hats are back in style. Eily Henry, a Waterford dealer in vintage fashion and accessories, is just back from the National Antiques Fair in Limerick where she sold all the hats on her stand - mostly to young women in their 20s. "That hasn't happened before," she says. "There's always been an interest in hats, but mainly among an older generation who like them because they're familiar."

Henry's young buyers were prepping themselves for the wedding season. "One of the girls that I spoke to was going to three different weddings this summer. She's bought one fabulous dress, which she's going to wear to all of them, each time with a different vintage hat."

As a former fashion designer, Henry (née Doolan) is no stranger to the challenges of assembling an outfit. "High street fashions have a sameness in colour and style, and you don't want to arrive at a wedding wearing the same clothes as somebody else. Go vintage with the accessories and you can create something really unique."

It might be stating the obvious, but when buying a vintage hat, the first principle is to choose something that's going to stay on your head. "If you're not confident a hat will stay on, you won't stand up nice and tall. You see people at weddings with the hands going to the head at the slightest puff of wind. If you're anxious about the hat blowing away, you might as well take it off."

For this reason, the most popular vintage hats for summer weddings are known as half hats. Dating from the 1950s and 60s, they are flat, often asymmetrical in shape, and curved to fit the side or the back of the head. "They fit on to your head securely because you pin your hair up around them. Once the hat is in place, you don't need to take it off and you don't have to worry about it flattening your hair."

Summer versions come with light feathers, net or diamante, with felt, velvet or heavy feathers for winter. They cost between €35 and €90, with most people spending around €50. The vast majority of vintage hats are worth less than €100, but there are exceptions. "We love to see pieces by the big names," says Kerry Taylor, a London-based auctioneer who specialises in vintage fashion. Hats designed by Coco Chanel or Elsa Schiaparelli can raise thousands, if in pristine condition.

Age, in hats, does not dictate the price. In fact, a spectacular hat of recent design may well be worth more than an ordinary looking older one. Stephen Jones' Harris Tweed Crown was designed for Vivienne Westwood's 1987 collection. It looks like the bastard progeny of a tweed cap and the British Crown, and is much coveted by museums and collectors.

In 2015, a painted feather 'butterfly' hat (2003) by the Irish hat designer Philip Treacy sold at Kerry Taylor Auctions for £6,000. The black straw topper is covered in a cloud of trembling multicoloured butterflies and was worn by Naomi Campbell for the cover of Tatler in May 2003. Provenance too is important. In 2015, a perfectly ordinary 1940s straw boater fetched £2,200 at auction, purely because it had belonged to the Duke of Windsor. The Royals, and consequently their followers, do love their hats.

Vintage gloves are also collectible, although rarely highly priced. "There are gems that are highly desirable but most of them are a bit boring," says Taylor. Non-boring gloves include those designed by Schiaparelli in aqua doeskin with golden fins running down each finger (from 1939) and in black suede with red snakeskin fingernails (from 1936). "I dream of finding a pair. They could fetch between £5,000 and £10,000," says Taylor.

If you find a piece by Schiaparelli, she recommends you look for a printed signature on a narrow label. Many of Schiaparelli's designs were reproduced under licence in America and these have larger labels.

The vast majority of vintage gloves are affordable and popular as wedding accessories. "I try to keep them under €50," says Henry, who currently has wrist-length gloves for around €28 and elbow-length gloves for €48. Summery gloves were made in fine lace and handmade crochet, often in white or pastel colours, while the finest winter gloves are made of kid. "I have some very fine kid gloves in light cream and pale grey. The black ones are harder to find because they tended to get more use."

Gloves in delicate shades were often kept at the bottom of a drawer for a special occasion that never came.The problem is size. Vintage gloves were made for small hands and rarely come in large sizes. The same goes for vintage shoes. It's difficult to try on these lovely old items without feeling like Cinderella's ugly sister.

Eily Henry will be in the antiques hall of the RDS Dublin Horse Show on July 20-24 with Colm Henry Prints & Vintage. For further details, email She will also take part in the Hibernian Antiques and Vintage Fair at the Rose of Tralee Festival on August 20&21 in the Earl of Desmond Hotel ( The next sale at Kerry Taylor Auctions takes place on October 11, 2016, see

In the salerooms


Lev Mitchell & Sons of Slane, Co Meath, in conjunction with Joe Lennon of Milltown Country Auction Rooms, are holding an antique auction this Monday.

The auction will take place in Milltown Country Auction Rooms, Milltown, Dromiskin, Dundalk, Co Louth, beginning at 4pm. The sale will include the complete contents of two houses: one in Baltinglass, Co Wicklow and the other in Edgeworthstown, Co Longford, as well as 150 lots of memorabilia from a collector. Items of interest include a Georgian mahogany secretaire chest (€600 to €800); a Victorian circular dining table (€400 to €600); a set of six rosewood dining chairs (€400 to €500); and a pair of 19th century carved oak tip-up occasional tables (€400 to €600). See and


The next antique furniture auction at Victor Mitchell’s Mount Butler Salerooms will take place on Wednesday at 10.30am.

Expect more than 750 lots including antique interior furnishings, paintings, rugs, silver, antique beds, and lighting. Items of interest include an Italian tambour desk (est €800); a pair of Edwardian rosewood shop display cabinets (est €1,000); a life-size bronze sculpture of a warrior (est €1,200); a selection of antique French beds (€500 to €900); a range of Persian floor rugs (€150 to €600); and a Georgian mahogany chest-on-chest (est €1,000).

For full details, see


The death of an artist tends to signify a rise in the prices of their work. The Antrim artist Basil Blackshaw, once described as a “figurative painter with a later tendency towards the abstract”, died on May 2 at the age of 84 and auction prices are already rising.

Two of his works were included in De Vere’s Irish Art Auction on May 25: Farmhouse In A Landscape, an oil-on-paper estimated between €3,000 and €5,000 sold for €12,500; and Headland II, an oil-on-canvas dating from 1992 sold for €11,500.

In the rest of the sale, Jack Butler Yeats showed top form, with two paintings dating from the 1940s making the two top lots.  A Riverside Inn (1946) sold for €66,000 and The Ferry Boat (1943) for €61,000. Still Life With Apples On A White Cloth (above), painted by Roderic O’Conor in the mid-1920s, sold for €55,000 and Semur-en-Auxois, a 1920s cubist cityscape by Mary Swanzy, sold for €41,000. Badgers, Her Place by John Shinnors reached €26,000. For full results, see


A fair organised by Hibernian Antiques Fairs will take place at the Newpark Hotel, Kilkenny, this Sunday. Full details are on

This will be followed, on Sunday, July 10, by an Ava Antique & Collectors’ Fair at Manor House Hotel, Enniskillen, with a range of dealers selling everything from paintings and prints to coins and vintage china. The fair is from 11am to 6pm, adult admission is £2 and further information is available on 0044 28 30267431.

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