Wednesday 18 July 2018

Treasures: Meteoric values

Ireland's fine arts, antiques and collectables column

Meteorite
Meteorite
A diamond and seed pearl brooch

Eleanor Flegg

Interesting and valuable collectibles don't usually fall from the sky, except in the form of meteorites. The best of these can be very valuable indeed. Christie's online meteorite auction Deep Impact: Martian, Lunar, and Other Rare Meteorites, which concluded on February 14, realised a total of US$725,750 (€595,304). The top lot was a Canyon Diablo meteorite. This incredible piece of art from outer space fetched US$237,500 (€193,301).

James Hyslop, Christie's expert in Science and Natural History in London classifies meteorites in terms of size, science, source, and story. The Canyon Diablo ticked all the boxes. It was large (weighing 31.9 kg) and originated in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. It also came from a meteorite that landed in the Arizona desert around 50,000 years ago, creating a crater a mile wide and 600 feet deep.

Irish meteorites are rare. In April 1969, astronomers tracked a fireball over England and Ireland. It landed near Belfast, where a chunk of it went through the roof of an unoccupied RUC station.

The next significant Irish meteorite didn't land until November 1999. When the spectacular fireball exploded over Leighlinbridge, Co Carlow, many people thought that a bomb had gone off.

"The phones were hopping!" says David Moore, editor of Astronomy Ireland. Once people had recovered from the shock, they went searching for it. The meteorite hunter and dealer Rob Elliot had advertised in The Carlow People, offering a £20,000 reward.

Elliot, who lives in Scotland, was beginning to give up hope when he received an interesting parcel in mid-January 2000. "Opening the package to find one of the freshest, blackest meteorites that I've ever seen came as something as a surprise," he says. The meteorite had been found by an elderly lady who had kept it to show her grandson over Christmas. She forgot to include a return address. Elliot tracked her down, through The Carlow People, and gave her the reward. "We saw it advertised on his website for 50 times the price of gold!" says Moore. This particular meteorite was valuable because it was the last meteorite of the millennium, and because it was Irish. Stray pieces of Mars do land on Earth as meteorites, but these are rare and valuable. He reckons that at least two meteorites land on this island every year. "The problem is that it's mostly cloudy and people don't see the flash," he explains. "The Leighlinbridge meteorite was found on a road. If it had fallen a few metres to either side, it probably wouldn't have been found at all." If you do find a rock that you think is a meteorite, the procedure is to have it tested by a university or museum expert. Most of these will do so without a fee, in return for a sample if it turns out to be genuine. This is rare. Dr Ian Sanders of Trinity College Dublin's geology department gets wannabe meteorites at least once a month. The vast majority are "meteor-wrongs".

But collecting is an accessible hobby. There's a small (three inches wide) iron meteorite (est €70 to €120), for example, in Matthews Auctioneers' house clearance sale tomorrow and Sunday. It was collected at the Camo di Cielo crater field in Argentina in the 1960s. "It's four billion years old! That's oldest thing we've ever sold," Damien Matthews says. As with all collectibles, its safest to buy from a respected dealer. See astronomy.ie, christies.com, and matthewsauctionrooms.com.

In the Salerooms

John Weldon Auctioneers

2018-03-09_lif_39140288_I1.JPG
A diamond and seed pearl brooch
 

While the best jewellery will always be pricey, there are also many pieces that are beautiful, wearable, and moderately priced. They're just not always fashionable. "We often get fine quality antique pieces and, while the fashions and tastes change, one can't get away from the craftsmanship and skill used to make the pieces," John Weldon explains. His next Fine Jewellery & Silver Auction, which takes place on Tuesday at 2pm in Cows Lane, Temple Bar, Dublin 8, includes a diamond and seed pearl-set starburst brooch (est €400 to €600,above). "I have to say you couldn't make a piece like this today for the price it will make at the auction - and you would struggle to find someone that could make it!" Similarly, a diamond-set brooch/pendant (one can wear it as either) that dates from the late 19th century (est €600 to €900). "Again while not the most fashionable piece, it was here long before some modern jewellery brands, it will be here long after they are gone!" Potential top lots in the sale include a fine diamond single stone pendant on a chain (est €10,000 to €15,000). Viewing tomorrow to Tuesday with full details and online catalogue on jwa.ie.

Matthews' Auction Rooms

Meteorites aside, the house clearance auction conducted by Matthews Auctioneers tomorrow and Sunday promises plenty of useful and interesting stuff. The sale takes place on the premises at Ashbrook, Ballyjamesduff, Co Cavan, and includes antique furniture, rugs, Irish paintings, old silver, fine china, crystal, collectables, jewellery, garden statuary, light fittings, and the clearance of 100 lots of gardening tools. The paintings include works by Hilda von Stockum, Charles Brady, and Gladys MacCabe, as well as the ever-popular Graham Knuttle, Mark O'Neill, and Markey Robinson. Viewing runs until Sunday with full details and online catalogue on matthewsauctionrooms.com.

Antiques Art & Vintage Fair

A Mothers' Day Antiques Art & Vintage Fair will take place at the Birr County Arms Hotel, Birr, Co Offaly, on Sunday. "Just as a once-off, admission will be free for everyone," says Robin O'Donnell of Hibernian Antique Fairs. "We have a fantastic fair lined up, with antique dealers coming from all over Ireland!"

Victor Mee

Postponed, due to the snow, the sale of items from Howl at the Moon, The Shelbourne, The Residence Club and Clerys will now take place at the Heritage Hotel, Killenard, Co Laois, on Monday and Tuesday from 10am. The sale is conducted by Cavan's Victor Mee Auctions in partnership with Niall Mullen and includes a two-metre square French chandelier, a 2.5 metre bronze sculpture by Sandra Bell, originally purchased by Tony Ryan, and the bronze installation that once graced the front of the former Microsoft building in Dublin. For full details and online catalogue see victormeeauctions.ie.

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