Friday 23 August 2019

Treasures: Turning Irish silver to gold

Your silverware could be worth a lot of money if it's Irish-made
Your silverware could be worth a lot of money if it's Irish-made

Silver gets a bad rap. It has the reputation of being expensive to buy, tiresome to maintain, and attractive to burglars. There's a fair amount of truth in this.

But, you can say the very same about most high-tech gadgets. Are you hankering for a new tablet or smart phone for Christmas? You could get a fair amount of silver for the same price. Yes, the silver would need to be polished, but electronic gadgets require careful maintenance too. And, in 20 years' time, the silver will be worth at least as much as you paid for it.

Within the silver spectrum, there's a huge variety in price. Irish silver is interesting because of its history. It's also relatively rare, which is part of the charm. But it's expensive stuff.

"The Irish silversmithing trade was decimated by the famine in the 1840s. After that, there were only a handful of people in the country who could afford to buy silver," says Ian Haslam, antique dealer.

In the aftermath of the famine, he recounts, a third generation Irish silversmith called John Pittar headed out to Madras, India, to restart his business in a country where people could afford to spend on luxuries.

If you're selling the family silver and it turns out to be Irish, it will be worth considerably more than almost identical pieces made in England. And the older it is, the more expensive it's likely to be. But Irish silver Christmas present buyers will need deep pockets. An Irish Georgian wine funnel at the Silver Shop would make a cool present for a wine buff. That's if you have €995 to spend. If you want to buy a more affordable piece of Irish silver, Haslam suggests that you go for something made in the 20th century. "We have a pair of silver salts with blue glass liners made in Dublin in 1913. They cost €295 for the pair."

Haslam also finds that people like to give quirky collectible items, like a silver German toothpick holder (€265) in the shape of a half-open umbrella. The toothpicks rest within the umbrella and you lift it by its handle to pass them around. Or you could buy an egg topper (€395). The device closes over the top of the egg like a nutcracker and a ring of tiny pins make holes in the eggshell so you can lift off the top. It looks like an instrument of torture.

Practical items, the sort of things you'd want on your Christmas table include napkin rings (around €75 each) and candlesticks, which tend to be expensive. Sold in pairs, they range from small candlesticks from 1912 (€400) to a handsome looking Georgian pair, one-foot tall, with a cost of €3,750.

"Single candlesticks are much cheaper than pairs," Haslam says. He wouldn't advise buying a single candlestick as an investment but if you're just looking to decorate the mantelpiece with mismatched pieces, you might pick up a nice Edwardian candlestick for between €150 and €250.

If you like the look of silver but can't afford it, the antique dealer George Stacpoole recommends you consider silver plate. Silver plate is a thin sandwich of silver over an inner layer of a base metal, usually copper. It was invented at the end of the 18th century and used, especially in Sheffield, to create objects that looked and behaved exactly like silver, but sold for a fraction of the price. "I think it's marvellous," says Stacpoole. "It looks just like the real thing." In his shop in Adare, Co Limerick, a three-piece silver plate tea set of teapot, jug, and sugar bowl costs €300. A similar tea set, made in real silver, would cost at least €600. A pair of antique silver plate candlesticks could set you back €150. You'd pay between €450 and €600 for the real thing. If you can't make it - plate it!

This 'poor man's silver' is every bit as pretty as the genuine article, it's just cheaper. But it can be hard to know what's real and what isn't. Silver plate is marked, just as real silver is, but with a different set of symbols. If you want to sell the family silver, discovering that it's actually plate is not good news. It may well be worth less than half what you'd hoped.

"Sometimes people come in saying they've got a wonderful pile of silver to sell and we have to break it to them that it's plate," says Stacpoole. As always, buy or sell with a dealer you can trust. Membership of the Irish Antiques Dealers Association (IADA) offers a stamp of approval. And, if you're lucky enough to have some silver in your life - enjoy it.

"Some people just buy it and put it away, but I tell everyone to use their silver," Stacpoole says. "You can't take it with you in the end."

See and For George Stacpoole Antiques, call 061 396409.

In the salerooms


A sale of Important Irish Art conducted by Whyte's takes place in the RDS, Anglesea Road, on Monday. One of the highlights is Being [734], a spectral oil painting of a male torso by Louis le Brocquy. It is estimated to sell for between €80,000 and €100,000.

Foremost among the other paintings of interest is Gerard Dillon's portrait of the artist Dan O'Neill (1952). It is estimated between €20,000 and €30,000. A series of studies by William Connor (1881-1968) are interesting both aesthetically and for the immediacy of their depiction of ordinary Belfast life. The largest and the most dynamic of these, On The Swings, is estimated between €12,000 and €15,000.



In 1962 the Irish artist, Patrick Swift (1927-1983) moved to Portugal with his wife and three daughters. Discovering that the local majolica pottery was in steep decline, he embarked on a Quixotic project.

In partnership with the artist Lima de Freitas, he established a pottery workshop in Porches, near Lagoa, to resuscitate the industry. Three of his earthenware chargers are up for auction in Adam's sale of Important Irish Art, which takes place on December 2. The chargers feature the portrait of a girl, probably his daughter, Juliette, and are estimated between €600 and €800 each.

Top lots in the sale include Roderic O'Conor's Still Life Study With Fruit And Pottery On A Mahogany Table Oil (€30,000 to €50,000); Jack Butler Yeats' The Creole (€30,000 to €50,000); and a portrait in pastel of Pamela Mitford by Paul César Helleu (€20,000 to €30,000). See

Antiques and vintage fair

For those in search of vintage gifts, a fair will take place in the Conyngham Arms Hotel, Slane, on Sunday from 11am-6pm. Niamh Parkes, who is new to the fair, will be bringing a 35-piece Art Deco dinner service, made by Wedgewood in the 1930s.

She will also have vintage toys, including a 1950s Mettoy Supertype typewriter, old Bakelite telephones, and vintage woodworking tools. Other interesting objects from the 1930s include a Wade Heath Disney Snow White and the Seven Dwarves cheese dish, for sale from Tony Millington.

City auction rooms and Victor Mitchell

City Auction Rooms, Waterford, will go live with for the first time for their next auction, which takes place on Monday.

The sale includes an antique Irish Killarney-work games table made in arbutus wood (€4,000 to €6,000); a silver two-handled tray with a gilt edge and six sweet dishes, made by Asprey of London (€6,000 to €8,000); and an antique four-door bookcase made in pitch pine (€600 to €900). See

Victor Mitchell's Autumn Antique and Decorative Interiors Auction takes place on December 2 at 10.30am. Expect a traditional period house auction with antique furniture and furnishings ranging from beds and sideboards to silver and painting. See

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