Treasures: Smoke and mirrors...
People like to dream about finding something of value in the garden shed. In real life, that rarely happens. That's why a man living in Louth was very surprised to find that the old tobacco advertising mirrors that he'd used to plug the holes in his garden shed were potentially worth several thousand euro. "These mirrors were sold to me by an employee of Carroll's Tobacco Factory in Dundalk," he said. "They were always stored in our garden shed, and we don't know much more about them."
Branded mirrors were an early form of advertising supplied to tobacconists and pubs by tobacco companies and breweries from the 1890s. With gold leaf and coloured lettering on antique glass, a large mirror must have been a godsend to shopkeepers and publicans who wanted to decorate their premises, but originals from this period are rare. "These three were probably made in the late 19th or early 20th century," says Victor Mee, auctioneer.
"You can tell by the thickness of the glass, by the quality of the gilding and engraving, and by the patina." Later reproductions try to mimic the patina, but rarely achieve this in a way that can fool an expert.
The mirrors are coming up for sale at Victor Mee's auction of Advertising, Pub Memorabilia, and Vernacular Furniture on Wednesday. A 'Smoke Player's Navy Cut Cigarettes' advertising mirror is estimated to sell for between €2,500 and €3,500; an 'Ogden's Guinea Gold Cigarette' mirror for €2,000 to €3,000; and a 'Hignett's Tobacco Night and Morning Two Flake' advertising mirror for between €2,500 and €3,500.
"They're very good quality mirrors," Mee explains. "They would have been expensive to produce at the time; made by carvers, gilders and glass merchants and treated as a form of art."
One of the unusual things about the mirrors is their size. The Ogden's and the Hignett's mirrors each measure 4 x 5 foot, and the slightly smaller Player's mirror is 3.5 x 4 foot. "Mirrors of that size and quality only went out to the bigger businesses. The bigger the business, the better the mirror that they would have given you," Mee explains. While only a few mirrors would have been made on this scale, they would also have been vulnerable to breakage. "Large mirrors wouldn't have survived that well. There was no huge value in them 40 years ago and they were often taken down if the premises were redecorated or sold." Advertising mirrors placed in pubs were especially at risk. "They often came a cropper when people got rowdy."
Although using antique mirrors to shore up the garden shed is not ideal conservation practice, the saving of these three is that they were tied in an upright position. In general, antique mirrors should be stored upright and transported by professional handlers. These particular mirrors may once have been displayed in the PJ Carroll factory in Dundalk, originally founded in 1824. Carroll's brands included Sweet Afton, launched in 1919 on the basis of a fairly tenuous link between the poet Robbie Burns, author of the poem Sweet Afton, and the town of Dundalk, where his sister lived. By the mid-20th century, PJ Carroll became the town's largest employer and the Dundalk factory remained in operation until 2008.
"We don't know where they were made. There's no signature. They were probably made in Liverpool and brought over," says Mee. Some advertising mirrors were made in Ireland and the sale includes two engraved by WW Cleland of Belfast, who made mirrors advertising Dunville's whiskey.
According to Mee, the mirrors will probably be bought by publicans. "There's a great interest in them now, especially for pubs that hark back to the Victorian era. People like to feel that they're in a time zone. But there are private collectors too. They know a good mirror and they know a rare mirror. If it fills a gap in their collection, they have to have it."
It's difficult to see any type of cigarette advertising without thinking of the health implications of smoking, but Mee feels that collectors appreciate the mirrors in their historical context. "People look at the old thing as the old thing. It was done a 100 years ago. When people come into an old environment, they expect to find it."
Mirrors designed to advertise cigarettes are part of the wider field of collectibles known as tobacciana. This a broad term to describe any cigarette or cigar-related memorabilia, much of which reflects an age of innocence before people realised that cigarettes would kill you. For many collectors, the irony is part of the charm. The next Eclectic Collector auction at Whyte's includes a cigarette advertising sign that boasts: 'Craven A will not affect your throat (est €200 to €300). Another advertisement shows a golden haired child sitting on a cushion, playing with a handful of cigarettes. The advertisement reads: 'Players No. 3 Virginia Cigarettes. Plain or Cork Tips' and, in small print just below the picture of the child: 'Daddy's Favourite.' It's part of a lot of three advertisements and estimated to sell for between €150 and €250.
Victor Mee's auction of Advertising, Pub Memorabilia and Vernacular furniture takes place at Cloverhill, Belturbet, County Cavan, on Wednesday at 5.30 pm (see victormeeauctions.ie). Whyte's Eclectic Collector auction will take place on May 5 and is accepting suitable entries until Tuesday.
In the Salerooms
Antiques and vintage fairs
There's a great round of Antiques & Vintage Fairs around the country this bank holiday weekend. The largest of these is the National Antiques Fair, organised by Hibernian Antique Fairs, which takes place in the South Court Hotel, Limerick City, on Sunday 18 and Monday 19 March. Expect around 100 antique shops and dealers, including the Hunt Museum and at least ten members of the IADA. The fair runs from 11am to 6pm on both days and adult admission is €5.
On Sunday, 18 March, Antiques Fairs Ireland/Vintage Ireland will run an Antiques & Vintage Fair at Clontarf Castle Hotel, Dublin 3. The fair runs from 11am to 6pm and admission is €3.50.
Meanwhile, Ava Antique Fairs will run two events over the weekend: their annual Saint Patrick's Day Fair takes place in the Hilton Hotel, Templepatrick, on Saturday, 17 March, while another fair will run in Glenavon House Hotel, Cookstown, on Monday.
Both fairs run from 11am to 5pm and admission is £2.
A watercolour, believed to be a preparatory study for The Meeting on the Turret Stairs by Sir Frederic William Burton (1816-1900), sold for €24,000 at Fonsie Mealy's Chatsworth Spring Fine Art Sale on Wednesday, 7 March. This more than doubled the painting's upper estimate of €10,000. A small model of a group of figures, showing Daniel O'Connell surrounded by country folk (pictured) sold for €2,500. Other interesting results included a late 19th-century knobkerrie, around 70cm long, and made from African rhinoceros' horn. The stick, which is of a type used as a hunting weapon, carried an estimate of €800 to €1,200, but sold for €6,500. More predictably, a 16th or 17th century Flemish School painting of the crucifixion in the style of Louis de Caullery (1580-1621) sold for €12,000. The top lot in the sale was a round brilliant cut solitaire diamond ring with fluorescence, set in platinum, which sold for €42,000. See fonsiemealy.ie.
Eighteenth-century portraits can be stilted to the point that you don't really get an impression of the sitter's personality at all. Not so the work of Hugh Douglas Hamilton (1734-1808), whose dynamic portrait of Maria Susanna Ormsby (est. €25,000 to 35,000) is going under the hammer at Adam's sale of Important Irish Art on Tuesday, 27 March. The auction also includes the atmospheric Two Figures in a Moonlit Landscape (est. €4,000 to €6,000) by James Arthur O'Connor (1792-1841). This, as auctioneer James O'Halloran points out, is very similar to O'Connor's much-loved painting The Poachers, which can be seen in the National Gallery of Ireland. There is also an archetypical 1930s painting The Apple (est. €4,000 to €6,000) by Beatrice, Lady Glenavy (1881-1970), which shows a couple with their baby and their dog under an apple tree (see adams.ie)