Treasures: Tracking train posters
Ireland's fine arts, antiques and collectables column
When the Dublin and Kingstown Railway opened to the public on December 17, 1934, Irish transport was changed forever. An unknown journalist speculated that: "Hurried by the invisible but stupendous energy of steam, the astonished passenger will now glide like Asmodeus over the summits of houses - then skim across the surface of the sea and, taking shelter under the cliffs, coast among the marine villas and through rocky excavations until he finds himself in the centre of a vast port."
By the end of the century, the country was covered by 3,000 miles of railway, run by a network of small independent companies. In the early years of the Free State, the network of local railways was absorbed into four larger companies. The largest of these was the Great Southern & Western Railway (GS&WR). When it came into being in 1925, it took over 26 smaller lines.
Any of the memorabilia associated with the early years of Irish railways is of interest to collectors. This area of collecting is known as 'railwayana' and has many areas of special interest, but some aspects, like the vintage posters from early railways, are very accessible.
"There's always been a romance about the railways," says Ian Whyte, auctioneer. "Some people collect anything to do with a certain railway, but other people just buy them to decorate their house." You don't need to be a train spotter to appreciate the lovely blend of artwork and history in a vintage railway poster, which can sell for anything between €100 and €1,000, with most prices in the low hundreds. "When people bring them in to us, they're often surprised that the posters will fetch that much."
The most valuable railway posters are those designed by Paul Henry for The London Midland and Scottish Railway Company (LMS) in the 1920s. "Other artists also designed posters but they didn't put their name to them," says Whyte. "We're pretty sure that Percy French designed a few, but he didn't sign them so it's hard to prove." In August 2016, a Great Southern & Western Railway poster of Parknasilla sold for €1,000 at Victor Mee's auction in Cloverhill.
Nobody knows the name of the artist behind the 'Land of Tyrconnell', a colour lithograph poster produced in 1903 for the Donegal Railway Company. The poster is a grand piece of romantic nostalgia with views of the ruins of Donegal Castle, a train passing through Barnsmore Gap at moonlight, the village of Killybegs, and the cliffs of Slieve League. The poster (est €300 to €500) is up for sale in the Eclectic Collector Auction, which takes place at Whyte's tomorrow. The auction also includes four Donegal Railway Excursion posters (est €200 to €250) in plain print on coloured paper. The trips they advertise include the County Donegal Gaelic League Football Final (June 8, 1924); a Pilgrimage to Doon Well (July 31, 1937); and a Christmas Shopping Trip to Dublin (December 9, 1937), such were the excitements of life in Donegal in the 1920s and 1930s.
Early Irish railway tickets may be of interest to collectors. Some will gather tickets issued by particular railway companies, while others collect tickets from certain stations.
In general, railway tickets are not high-value items, but there are exceptions. In 2011, a first class single from Banagher to Maryborough (now Portlaoise) sold for £3,200 (around €3,800) at Dominic Winters in the UK. The ticket was issued by the Clara & Banagher Railway in 1904 and originally cost 9/4d (the equivalent of a craftsman's daily wage). The estimate was £80 (€95) and the high price was probably due to a bidding war, rather than the intrinsic value of the item.
Other tickets are valuable because they coincide with a moment in history. Last May, six partially used Great Northern Railway excursion tickets from Amiens Street (now Connolly Station) to the Hill of Howth sold at Whyte's for €420. The tickets were used by the Burridge family on April 24, 1916. While they were in Howth, news of the Easter Rising came through and all trains were cancelled. The family, ranging from a 12-year-old girl to her 85-year-old grandfather, had to walk home to the South Circular Road.
Signage, photographs and other ephemera also have value at auction, particularly if there's a good story behind them. Anything to do with Ireland's efforts to create a steam engine that ran on turf will be of interest. Because turf was the most widely used fuel in Ireland - and coal wasn't always available - different Irish railways experimented with using it to fuel their trains.
These experiments began in 1848 and continued until the widespread adoption of the diesel engine, but although turf was often used to bulk up coal, it always seemed to cause problems.
In 1957, CIE hired an engineer called O V S Bulleid to design a turf-burning locomotive, which was built in Inchicore. It was an ugly machine but it worked, apparently quite well, until it was retired and dismantled and broken up in 1963.
A series of photographs of the turf burning locomotive, together with a confidential report on its trials, sold at Whyte's in April 2008 for €2,000. The lot included a collection of photographs of trains that had been blown up during the Civil War (1922 to 1923).
Whyte's Eclectic Collector Auction takes place tomorrow at 10am. See whytes.ie, dominicwinter.co.uk, cloverhillauctions.com.
In the salerooms
A "Victorian Lady's Companion" sold for €2,500 at Matthews Auction Rooms on 22 and 23 April.
The delicately carved titillation device had belonged to an old Anglo Irish family and came in its original "scarlet lined leather upholstered carry box with inset bevelled glass panel".
It had been estimated between €500 and €800. Other interesting pieces in the sale included an antique deep sea diver's helmet by Siebe Gorman & Co Submarine, estimated between €700 and €1,200, which sold for €2,100. Matthews' next auction will take place on the premises of Joristown Lodge, Raharney, County Westmeath, on Sunday 14 May at 1.30 pm.
Expect some decent tack - the owner of the house was Colonel William Harvey-Kelly who hunted with the Westmeath Foxhounds for over 70 years. See matthewsauctionrooms.com.
DUBLIN PAINTING AND SKETCHING CLUB
Founded in 1874, the Dublin Painting & Sketching Club is still going strong. It's 139th Exhibition will run at the Concourse Gallery, Dun Laoghaire County Hall, from 8 to 21 May.
In recognition of the 200th anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone of Dun Laoghaire Harbour and its East Pier, the exhibition will incorporate a maritime theme.
Historically, a group of its hardier members used to sail around Dublin Bay on the Iris, with their easels lashed to the deck.
The group was known as the 'Graphic Cruisers Club'.
The exhibition will include a painting by Aidan Hickey, the club's current president. The Iris Sails Again 1895 (below) is an engagingly stylised view of an historic harbour scene.
Expect also works in oil, water colour, pastels and ink, drawings, lithographs and prints. Prices range from €250 (for a small print or drawing) up to €3,000.
There were no alarms or surprises at Adam's History Sale, which took place on April 29. The expected highlight, a Proclamation of Independence of the Irish Republic (est. €150,000 to €250,000), delivered almost as well as expected and sold for €120,000.
It was one of only two known copies signed by the printer, Christopher Brady. Three beautiful and historic items described as "Bronze-Age Ring Money: three penannular rings of circular section of solid gold with a high purity" (est. €1,500 to €2,500) sold collectively for €2,200.
A 1916 Defense of Trinity College Silver presentation cup (est. €1,800 to €2,200) sold for €2,000. It was awarded to Cadet E.H. Frazer for his role in helping to defend Trinity College against the rebels.
ANTIQUES AND VINTAGE FAIRS
An Ava Antique & Collectors Fair will take place this Sunday, May 7 at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Dundalk. Expect a range of furniture, jewellery, coins and banknotes, silver, books, vintage lamps, clocks, glass, porcelain, curios and ephemera.
The event will run from 11am to 6pm and admission is €2 (children may enter free).