Treasures: Beneath the covers
Ireland's fine arts, antiques and collectables column
'Some people think that collecting old books is a kind of mild insanity," wrote Dr Martin Sander in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology (1943). He went on to distinguish between the lover of books, known as a bibliophile, and bibliomania, an obsessive-compulsive disorder associated with book hoarding. "The bibliophile is the master of his books, the bibliomaniac their slave." He then moved on to cover some memorable crimes committed by bibliomaniacs.
How do you tell if your book collecting (or someone else's) has become a problem? Dr Mark Griffiths put it nicely in Psychology Today (2013): "One of the defining features of bibliomania is that the acquisition and collecting of increasing numbers of books that have no use to the bibliomaniac, nor little intrinsic value to genuine book collectors."
So, if your books are considered interesting or valuable in the world of book collecting, then you're not unhinged. The same goes for people who actually read their books (even if the books are so obscure that nobody else is interested). Those folks are just specialists.
Other book related pathologies include "bibliokleptomania" (the stealing of books), "bibliophagy" (the eating of books), and "bibliotaphy" (the burying of books). Let's not go there.
There's a very large collection of books going under the hammer at Matthews Auctioneers this weekend. The entire collection - close to 30,000 volumes - was amassed by Mary Collette McAlister who died in 2016. Collectively, they give the impression of a bookshop. It's mind boggling to realise that all these books came from one person's collection.
A school teacher by profession, McAllister lived a quiet life in a beautiful 18th-century house with her lady companion. She came from a wealthy family, whose money enabled her book-collecting habit. "I don't think she was mad at all," said a friend of the family. "She was a lovely person, very friendly, and she laughed a lot. She just loved books!" Although her house must have been entirely dominated by books, this does not seem to have made her unhappy.
The books that McAllister bought were serious - there was very little tat in her collection - and most survive in good condition. Many are categorised as "antiquarian" (published before 1900). The lot with the highest estimate is the Memoirs of the Family of Grace (1823) by Sheffield Grace (est. €700 to €800) in two volumes. Such hefty antiquarian tomes are of interest to serious collectors. Anyone that actually wants to read them can buy a reprint for around €15. It's also available online for free.
Ms McAlister's tastes were eclectic. An estimated 40pc of her collection is of Irish interest, 20pc is devoted to exploration and travel; and 20pc on science. The remainder is miscellaneous, with leanings towards history and religion. As well as antiquarian volumes, there are many 20th-century first editions that she must have purchased on publication.
These include a signed limited edition copy of Ernie O'Malley's memoir of the War of Independence, On Another Man's Wound (1936), (est. €250 to €300). A more recent, and much cheaper edition, is available as part of a "shelf lot". Such group lots are where collectors search for bargains that the harried auctioneers may have overlooked.
There is also a copy of Bolshevism: Mr Keeling's Five Years in Russia (1919), the narrative "of a bonâ fide English workman who has lived and worked with Russian peasants and town factory employees for the last five years." The book (est. €70 to €120) has recently been reprinted (€9.60 from Forgotten Books) but this is a first edition. It's also signed on the cover by Constance Marchievicz who, as the historian Roy Foster describes, spent the early 1920s preaching "Bolshevism red in tooth and claw."
Other books of political include an evil but interesting hoax, The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion (est. €40 to €50), first published in Russia in 1903. It appears to be a Zionist plan for world domination and was exposed as a forgery in 1921. Many were taken in. The automobile magnet Henry Ford published an American version in the 1920s, and 500,000 copies were printed in the US (Ford later distanced himself from the document). Predictably, the Nazis loved it. More recent anti-Semitic groups have also chosen to ignore the fact that the document is a fabrication.
McAllister's books on science include Coca and cocaine: their history, medical and economic uses, and medicinal preparations (1894) by William Martindale (€70 to €80), written before cocaine abuse was recognised as an issue. The lot also includes a book on the Legal Responsibility of the Drunkard by H. Norman Barnett (1908).
Among the more recent books in the collection are both volumes of An Irish Florilegium: Wild and Garden Plants of Ireland, signed first editions with illustrations by Wendy Walsh (est. €200 to €300). The books were published by Thames and Hudson: Volume 1 (1983) then cost £60; Volume II (1988) was £80. It's proved to be one of the most collectible Irish publications of its time. Both volumes, also first edition, sold at Fonsie Mealy Auctioneers for €600 as a single lot in April 2014. There's another pair - also signed - at Ulysses Rare Books with a price tag of €1,200.
The sale of Ms McAllister's collection takes place on Saturday 24 and Sunday 25 June, at 12 noon on each day, at Dukes Brothers Building, 7 Market Street, Kells, County Meath. See matthewsauctionrooms.com.
In the Salerooms
Antique and Vintage Fairs
The National Antiques Art & Vintage Fair, Ireland's largest event of this kind, will take place in The South Court Hotel, Limerick, on Saturday 24 and and Sunday 25 June. With more than 100 dealers at the fair, expect bargains in Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian furniture and a fresh flush of vintage items. "Vintage has made huge inroads over those years," says Robin O'Donnell of Hibernian Antique Fairs. "Vintage clothing, jewellery and furnishings tend to attract a whole new audience to our fairs. Younger people have a huge grá for vintage." He also reports a steady demand for jewellery - both costume and precious. The fair runs from 11 am to 6 pm on both days and admission is €5.
The silversmiths of early 20th-century Dublin weren't enslaved to realism. A silver sauceboat (1904, pictured above), made in Dublin by Charles Lamb, is decorated with a peacefully grazing cow, scrolls, exotic plants, lion head medallion, and barley sugar twist legs terminating in little paw feet (est. €150 to €250). It's the sort of thing that would set a dinner party buzzing and is up for auction as part of JWA Auctioneers' sale of jewellery and silver on Tuesday 27 June in Cows Lane, Temple Bar, at 2 pm. Other potential highlights include a sapphire and diamond three stone ring set in platinum (est. €4,000 to €6,000); an 18ct gold diamond solitaire ring with a recent valuation of €4,000 (est. €900 to €1,200, pictured below); and a three row pearl necklet on a 14ct gold sapphire set clasp, valued at €3,800 in 2010 (est. €700 to €900). Oddities in the sale include a collection of Orange Order sashes (est. €25 to €45). See jwa.ie.
Just when you think that the auction frenzy that surrounded the 1916 centenary is done and dusted, another piece of Irish history goes under the hammer. This time, it was a typed Order of Surrender from the 1916 Rising, signed by Padraig Pearse. It sold for £263,000 (€300,908) at Bonhams' Fine Books sale in London on 14 June. It had been estimated at £80,000 to €120,000 (€91,531 to €137,296). On the same day, Paul Henry's depiction of Ferriter's Cove, Kerry, sold for £197,000 (€225,395) at Bonhams Modern British and Irish Sale in London. See bonhams.com.
It's a buyer's market for brown furniture and the clearance sales of period houses offer rich pickings to those in search of cupboards, cabinets and bookcases. The sale of the complete contents of a home in Athboy, County Meath, conducted by Lev Mitchell & Sons Auctioneers will include an eighteenth-century cupboard with fruit wood panelling (est. €600 to €800); an oak roll top desk (est. €500 to €600); a Georgian oak corner cupboard (est. €400 to €600); and an Edwardian mahogany inlaid display cabinet (est. €500 to €600). The auction will take place at Joe Lennon's Milltown Country Auction Rooms, Dromiskin, Dundalk, on Monday 26 June at 4 pm with online bidding via ukauctioneers.com. See www.milltownauction rooms.com.