Sunday 16 June 2019

Treasures: Open door sheds light on 1930s Rolls

Ireland's Fine Arts, antiques and collectables column

Continental drift: The Rolls, locked up for years, is due to go for auction next week
Continental drift: The Rolls, locked up for years, is due to go for auction next week

Eleanor Flegg

'The Civil Service," Rab Butler once said, "is a bit like a Rolls-Royce - you know it's the best machine in the world, but you're not quite sure what to do with it." Richard Austen Butler, generally known as Rab (1902-1982) was a British politician. He served as deputy prime minister under Harold Macmillan and chancellor of the exchequer under Winston Churchill, but is most famous for nearly (but not quite) becoming prime minister. Maybe he lacked the chutzpah needed for national leadership - and for driving a Rolls Royce.

The Rolls Royce that Rab Butler didn't know what to do with is coming up for auction at the Heritage Hotel, Killenard, on Tuesday and Wednesday. The car is catalogued as a "1930 3.7 litre Rolls-Royce Continental Sports Saloon" and estimated to sell for €50,000 to €70,000. It was built for Butler's wife, Sydney Elizabeth Courtauld, one of the inheritors of the Courtaulds textile empire, but neither she nor her husband could quite live up to their magnificent vehicle. There are reports that the Rolls Royce, complete with chauffeur, was used to drive their small son to school. Then, in 1995, it was purchased in England by its current owner. He didn't quite know what to do with it either and the car has spent the past 23 years in an Irish shed.

The Rolls Royce came to the attention of Niall Mullen, auctioneer, when one of his buyers took him aside and mentioned that he had "a few things lying around in a shed". Those are words to make an auctioneer's heart beat faster and Mullen wasted no time in getting down to see it. He wasn't disappointed.

"When the shed door opened it revealed a very interesting cacophony of stuff," he says. There, amid the relative chaos, was the Rolls-Royce.

The car wasn't exactly a "barn find". Its owner knew that it was valuable. He had paid £25,000 for it in 1995. But, left unused in a dry environment, it had become a vehicle frozen in time. "It hasn't been used or abused," Mullen says. "In the past 20 years there's been no wear and tear." Delving a little further into the shed, he found a Ford Model T with a Cork registration (est. €8,000 and €12,000). Mullen asked about provenance. "Sure I've had that for years," said the owner, who Mullen describes as "a quiet man who doesn't say too much." Mullen estimates that the car dates from the 1930s and that it wouldn't take too much to get it going again.

Two of the other cars in the auction come from a vendor who approached Mullen wanting to sell a 40-foot-long papal flag. This, he claims, was part of the backdrop to John Paul II's visit to the Phoenix Park in 1979. Mullen asked the vendor how he had come by the flag. "I got it from Fr Michael Cleary, the singing priest. He told me to put it into a charity auction and I did, but I bought it myself," the vendor explained. The flag carries an estimate of €2,000 to €3,000.

The same vendor is also selling a 1928 Willys Whippet, then the third-best-selling car in the United States, in luminous green (est. €8,000 and €12,000) and a 1976 Mercedes 350SL convertible (€15,000 to €20,000). He wrote to Mullen with a history of his much-loved vehicle: "My 1976 Mercedes 350SL was born in 1976 and sold from Mayfields, London, to a steward working in Buckingham Palace. Having used the car for a good number of years he sold it to a pilot working in British Airways who, after a time, sold it on to a fellow pilot working in Aer Lingus. He registered the vehicle in Ireland and, having secured another job overseas, he sold it on to me. I have since fitted new brake callipers and pads, and it is fully serviced and taxed. The mileage on the clock is 90,000, which I believe to be genuine. The car comes with a hard top painted metallic blue (as inner circle on wheel trims)."

The sale also includes a Panther Lima (€8,000 to €12,000), a retro-styled roadster of a type made between 1976 and 1982. The auction will be conducted by Niall Mullen and Mark O'Dwyer with Victor Mee. It will be on view in the Golf Club of the Heritage Hotel, Killenard, Co Laois tomorrow to Monday 22 October 20 (10 am to 6 pm). The action takes place on Tuesday and Wednesday.


In the Salerooms


“The ruby encloses the brilliant red of the clouds of evening,” wrote Charles Blanc, author of Art in Ornament and Dress (1875). Flowery words, but right on point. Rubies are a glorious colour and sometimes they work best in a simple setting. A late Victorian ruby carved dress ring (€6,000 to €9,000) is coming up for sale in O’Reilly’s auction of Fine Jewellery, which takes place on Wednesday at 1pm. It combines the nerdy excellence of 19th century craftsmanship with an unfussy design and five rubies (3.10ct in total with gem report), mounted in 18ct gold. The sale also includes a ruby hinged bangle (6,000 to €9,000) set throughout with round cut rubies of 12.50ct with gem report and a three stone diamond ring mounted in platinum (€22,000 to €26,000). The ring comes with full credentials: three certs stating the diamonds to be 2.04ct h vs1, 1.08ct h si1 and 1.08ct h vs1; 4.20ct in total. Viewing is on Sunday 21 (12pm to 4pm); Tuesday (11am to 5pm); and Wednesday (10am to 12.30pm). See


Matthews Auctioneers 

There’s rare chance to get your nose around the door of Arley, Mountnugent, Co Cavan, this weekend as the entire contents of the house go under the hammer. The estate was once the site of Lord Farnham’s holiday home and sold, about 30 years ago, to the current owner who: “constructed, without regard to cost, an impressive house in the antique taste”. This has recently sold to someone that Damien Matthew, auctioneer, described as: “a famous Hollywood personality”. Naturally, they don’t want the stuff in the house. “Estimates range from €10 to €10,000 and comprise items ranging from general household to antiquity. It is, without doubt, one of our most interesting auctions to date,” says Matthews, frantically cataloguing items ranging from fine furniture to taxidermy fish. And, even if you’re not in the market for stuffed owls and fancy china, the viewing would make a grand day out. The sale takes place on the premises tomorrow and Sunday at 1.30 pm with viewing from 10.30 am on each day. See



Bonhams auction of Modern British and Irish Art takes place in New Bond Street, London, on November 14. There will be a chance to view some of the works from Wednesday to October 26, 10am to 6pm, at Bonhams Ireland, 31 Molesworth Street, Dublin 2. See


Antiques & Vintage Fairs

The Kildare Antiques & Vintage Fair takes place on Sunday 21 October at the Osprey Hotel, Naas, County Kildare, on Sunday 21 October. The fair will include antique and vintage jewellery and silver, historical oddities, and quirky curios. Homeware ranges from Victorian furnishings to vintage kitchenalia and fashion from frocks and hats to handbags. Admission is €3.50 and the fair runs from 12 noon to 6 pm. See

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