Treasures: Follow yellow brick road
Ireland's fine arts, antiques and collectables column
Between 1979 and 1981, Danish toy manufacturer Lego rewarded some of their employees with the gift of a gold Lego brick.
The bricks were made in solid 14-carat gold, but otherwise they looked just like your standard eight-stud brick. Weighing 25.65g, each one was exactly the same size and shape as a plastic brick. It worked with other Lego too. If you'd been building something out of standard Lego, the little gold brick would have fitted in nicely.
One of the gold bricks was given to one of Lego's Italian business partners as a reward for his work in developing the brand in Italy. The brick sat out the intervening decades in a plastic presentation box, embellished with the Lego logo of the time, and was passed down from father to son. The gold of which it was made appreciated in value.
By 2017, according to the weight of the material alone, the Lego brick would be worth around €1,995. And had someone been foolish enough to melt it down, that's all they would have got. Luckily, that didn't happen. The real value of the brick was not in the gold, but in its collectability.
This February, the gold Lego brick was put up for sale with the European online auction Catawiki. It sold to a British collector for £15,750 (€18,484), breaking the record for the most expensive Lego brick ever sold. A similar brick had fetched £8,000 (€9,389) in 2012.
There are an estimated 10 such bricks in circulation and they are the holy grail of Lego collectors. They only rarely come on the market. But even if you can't get your hands on a gold brick, ordinary Lego can also be a good investment. A Telegraph analysis published in 2015 concluded that, in the first 15 years of the 21st century, Lego outperformed gold.
Imagine you came into some money around 2000. If you'd put your nest egg in a savings account, it would have risen by 2.8pc each year. If you'd invested in shares, the average annual return would have been about 4.1pc, including dividend payouts. And if you'd invested in gold, the value of your investment would have risen by 9.6pc each year. But if you'd bought Lego, your investment could have increased in value by 12pc each year. In short, the analysis concluded that Lego was a better investment than bank accounts, the stock market, or gold. The figures in the analysis are British, but the Irish situation is not dissimilar.
Andy Stowe of East Bristol Auctions, a specialist Lego auction house, who collects Lego himself, received a gift of a brand new Ghostbusters Collectors' Set, issued alongside the 2016 movie, and he's confident it will appreciate in value. "In a couple of years' time, it will be worth more than its RRP," he says.
According to the Telegraph analysis, modern Lego sets performed even more strongly than vintage ones, with those released in the previous year selling on eBay for 36pc more than their original price. But there's a cloud on the horizon. According to Stowe, Lego has rumoured that it's planning to reissue some of the biggest collectors' sets. If that happens, it will change the resale value of some of the classics.
But, for now, the going is good. Earlier this year, a Lego Star Wars Millennium Falcon sold at East Bristol Auctions for £2,200 (€2,582). "It had been opened and built, but we checked it and it was 100pc complete," says Stowe. If the box had been sealed, the set would have been worth £4,000 (€4,694). It had been issued in 2007 and was part of the Ultimate Collector's series.
In the same sale, a Lego Star Wars Death Star sold for £400 (€469) and a Lego hotel set for £360 (€422). But the biggest shock of the day was when a Lego Beatles Yellow Submarine set sold for £210 (€246). "It was a brand new set that was out of stock in most shops this Christmas," Stowe explains. The RRP was £50 (€59).
Although Lego sets are far more valuable than individual pieces (unless they're made of gold), rare figures are also of interest to collectors. In the same sale, a rare "chrome" effect Darth Vader mini-figure sold for £70 (€82).
The bottom line: "There's no bad Lego," says Stowe.
See eastbristol.co.uk and catawiki.com.
In the salerooms
"An artist has come from Dublin who paints flesh as well as the Old Masters," wrote the famous English painter Sir Edwin Landseer (1802-1873). The Irish artist in question was Richard Rothwell (1800-1868), who actually hailed from Athlone. Rothwell's portrait of the 1st Marquis of Ormond (est €14,000 to €18,000) is coming up for sale in the forthcoming Classical Convergences auction, which takes place in Sheppard's Auction House, Durrow, Co Laois, next Tuesday and Wednesday.
Other Ormond-related pieces in the sale include a Regency gilt-bronze surtout de table (est €20,000 to €40,000). The ornamental centrepiece is 255cm long and seeks bidders with long tables and deep pockets. Full details of the auction are available on sheppards.ie.
FONSIE MEALY AUCTIONEERS
If you're in the market for Old Masters, the Spring Chatsworth Fine Art Sale, conducted by Fonsie Mealy Auctioneers, may have something of interest. The auction takes place on Tuesday and Wednesday at the Chatsworth Auction Rooms, Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny.
A suite of four imposing 17th century portraits - complete with lace, brocade and uncomfortable subjects in punitive ruffs - is estimated to achieve between €40,000 and €60,000. The full-length portraits are attributed to Justus Sustermans (1597 - 1681).
The sale also includes the contents of Tulach Nore, Co Laois, which has been owned by the Harding family since the mid 1800s. An Arts and Crafts dining room suite (est €7,000 to €10,000) from this collection was made by Gillows of Lancaster and has been in the Harding family's possession for 100 years.
If wildfowl is your bag, the contents of this house also includes an unusual collection of taxidermy: 13 wild geese and ducks (est €1,250 to €1,750) mounted by the master taxidermist Derek Frampton, who carries out work for the Natural History Museum in London. For full details, see fonsiemealy.ie.
Bidding at Morgan O'Driscoll's latest Irish Art Online Auction is currently live and continues until Monday between 6.30pm and 9.10pm. The sale includes four paintings by Basil Blackshaw, including the retrained and elegant 'Horse' (est €4,000 to €6,000), and three by Pauline Bewick, most notably a watercolour, 'Sean And His Puppets' (est €3,000 to €4,000).
There are also a number of sculptures in bronze and a lithograph of a donkey by John Behan, including the straightforward 'Bull' (above), est €3,000 to €4,000, and the more emotionally loaded Famine Family (€2,000 to €3,000). The works can be viewed at Morgan O'Driscoll in Skibbereen, see morganodriscoll.com.
ANTIQUE & VINTAGE FAIRS
The Waterford Antiques Art & Vintage Fair, revived after a hiatus of several years, will run on Sunday. The fair is organised by Hibernian Antique Fairs and takes place in the Tower Hotel on the Quays in Waterford City from 11am to 6pm, with more than 30 stands. Admission is €2.50 and that includes a raffle ticket. Children go free.