Tuesday 20 February 2018

Treasures: Golden eye of a bibliophile

Ireland's fine arts, antiques and collectables column

First edition of Casino Royale
First edition of Casino Royale
Goldfinger first edition
Meissen porcelain ewer

Eleanor Flegg

An addiction to second-hand bookshops is clearly nothing new. Andrew Lang's Ballade Of The Book-Hunter (1880), see below, parodies the book enthusiast as a down-at-heel character "in breeches baggy at the knees". Real bibliophiles, of course, are nothing like this. Lang, who adored books, was probably poking fun at himself.

No dismal stall escapes his eye,

He turns o'er tomes of low degrees,

There soiled romanticists may lie,

Or Restoration comedies...

Book collecting brings to mind crumbling leather-bound volumes in unreadable languages but it all becomes a lot more fun when you realise that first editions of modern and popular fiction can be valuable too. A first edition is a book's first print run, often limited to a few hundred copies. The fewer there are, the more valuable they're likely to be, especially if the book went on to win a big literary prize.

Among Irish books, a first edition of James Joyce's Ulysses is high on the list of collectibles. It was published by Shakespeare and Company, Paris, in 1922 in a print run of 1,000. Within these narrow margins, there are further degrees of rarity and the condition of a volume will go a long way to dictating its price.

De Búrca Rare Books currently has a first edition of Ulysses for €32,000. "If it were signed, you could add another €30,000," says Eámonn de Búrca. If this seems expensive, bear in mind that back in 2009 the London book dealer Pom Harrington sold a signed first edition of Ulysses for £275,000 (around €328,460). The pages were uncut, apart from the final part of the book, containing Molly Bloom's famous soliloquy.

"Books are a good solid investment," de Búrca explains. "Over history, they've been shown to double in value every seven and a half years." If, for example, you have a signed limited first edition of Séamus Heaney's Death Of A Naturalist (1966), it might be worth hanging on to. It's valuable now, but will be even more so in 10 years' time.

If a book went on to become a major film, the first edition will be of interest to collectors. Ian Fleming's Bond novels are a good example.

This Tuesday, July 12, Fonsie Mealy's sale of Modern First Editions in Dublin includes 12 lots of Bond novels. They range in price from a slightly stained first edition of The Spy Who Loved Me (1962) (€200 to €300), to a first edition of Fleming's first Bond novel, Casino Royale (1953) (€4,000 to €8,000).

It's not always easy to tell a first edition from a later impression, but the Bond novels are simple to identify. There are 14 of them, all published in London by Jonathan Cape between 1953 and 1966. According to the London-based book dealer, Peter Harrington, a first edition will say Jonathan Cape on the title page and "first published…" with the correct date (and no others) on the back of the title page.

To be truly collectible, the book must have its original dust jacket. The opening sequence of Casino Royale (2006) was inspired by the original dust jacket design of red hearts. Fonsie Mealy's sale includes a first edition of Goldfinger (1959) (€500 to €600), which has a dust-jacket design of a skull with coins in its eye sockets and a rose in its teeth.

Books by Dick Francis, who invented horse-racing crime thrillers, aren't in the same league as Bond novels but first editions are collectible, such as Dead Cert (1962), which is on sale for £5,000 (€5,970) at Peter Harrington.

Fonsie Mealy's sale of Modern First Editions: The Dr Philip Murray Book Collection takes place at the Gresham Hotel, Dublin, on Tuesday, see fonsiemealy.ie. See also deburcararebooks.com; peterharrington.co.uk.

In the salerooms


The next auction of fine jewellery, watches and silver takes place at O'Reilly's Auction Rooms this Wednesday at 1pm. Highlights include a diamond solitaire, the oval cut diamond mounted in 18ct white gold (the HRD diamond certificate testifies that the diamond is 5cts, h colour, vvs1 clarity).

It's estimated to sell between €85,000 and €95,000.

Other high-value items include an Art Deco style target ring (€10,000 to €11,000), so called because a single brilliant cut diamond is surrounded by a double halo of round brilliant cut diamonds mounted in platinum.

A solitaire diamond ring, with an old cut diamond of 5.05ct set in platinum is estimated €20,000 to €25,000, while a necklace comprising of two diamond and emerald clusters carries an estimate of between €16,000 and €19,000.

One of the more unusual pieces in the sale is an Art Deco ruby, sapphire and diamond clip brooch (€14,000 to €16,000).

The central carved leaf sapphire lies within a border of drilled ruby and diamond buds and carved sapphire leaves, beneath a single triangular faceted ruby, surrounded by round baguette and French-cut diamonds, all mounted in platinum. See oreillysfineart.com.


An Ava Antiques & Collectors Fair will take place this Sunday at Manor House Hotel, Enniskillen, with the usual range of curiosities: amid the silver, glass and vintage china, expect to find plenty of jewellery, paintings and prints, as well as vintage oil lamps and barometers. The fair runs from 11am-6pm and admission is £2. Call 0044 28 30267431 for more info.


Mealy's Summer Sale takes place on Tuesday at their Castlecomer Saleroom at 11am. The sale includes paintings, furniture, silver, ceramics, glass and rare books from the collection of Professor Anne Crookshank, one of Ireland's most distinguished art historians now living in retirement in Donegal.

Meissen porcelain ewer

It includes Crookshank's Francis Johnston (PRHA) gold medal (€800 to €1,500). Among the items of decorative art, a magnificently over-the-top Meissen porcelain ewer (above) (c1880) (€7,000 to €11,000) is intended to represent the element of fire.

Its body is moulded with forest animals fleeing a fire and there is a volcano on the reverse, complete with Vulcan and his bellows.

The rest is liberally encrusted with classical forms and the handle is in the shape of a dragon, ridden by a cherubic winged putto. More tamely, a set of three Calcutta silver bowls (€600 to €800) have chased panels showing scenes from farming and everyday life.

Paintings of interest in the sale include the gruesome scene, attributed to Franz Snyders (1579-1657), of A Wild Boar, Attacked By A Pack Of Dogs In A Landscape (€35,000 to €55,000). Snyders was a very famous Baroque artist from Antwerp and studied under Pieter Bruegel the Younger.

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