Wednesday 13 November 2019

Treasures: Wheels of fortune

Ireland's fine arts, antiques and collectables column

A fully restored red Raleigh Chopper could be worth €1,000
A fully restored red Raleigh Chopper could be worth €1,000
Emerald and diamond ring

'From Cork I travelled to Macroom, and making no delay there, I pushed on, on my bicycle," wrote Padraig Pearse in the newspaper Claidheamh Soluis in November 1904.

He was on a mission to search for Gaelic Ireland and, like so many Irish people in the early 20th century, he travelled around the country on his bike. Almost 100 years later, a young man brought an old bicycle into High Nelly Bikes in Limerick. The bike had been in an attic for the best part of a century and was in need of some attention. As the engineer checked it over, the young man casually mentioned that the bicycle had belonged to Padraig Pearse. "I've no way of knowing if the story was true or not," says Martin Mannering, founder of High Nelly Bikes. "But it all added up. Pearse lived with his mother and the house went to her when he died, with the bicycle in the attic." The young owner, Pearse's great grand nephew, inherited the bicycle.

"He wasn't planning to sell it - it was a piece of heritage that he wanted to preserve."

The bike was of the type known as a High Nelly or 'Safety Bicycle'. The vast majority of Safety Bicycles in Ireland were manufactured in Raleigh's Dublin factory, which operated from 1939 to 1976.

Other bicycles were made by BSA, the Birmingham Small Arms factory, and imported to Ireland. After 1922, BSA supplied bicycles to the Irish Army. Vintage bicycles are hugely popular, but that does not mean the old High Nelly at the back of the shed is going to make you rich. A vintage Safety Bicycle in uncertain condition will be worth between €50 and €100. And, if you decide to have it restored, a full refurbishment from High Nelly Bikes will set you back €1,000. "That will bring it back to the day that it was bought 90 years ago," says Mannering.

Your local bicycle repair shop would be able to restore an old bike relatively cheaply by replacing old parts with new ones, but restoring the original parts is an expensive business. For example, the handlebars on Padraig Pearse's bicycle cost €570 to rechrome. A new set of handlebars costs €50. Vintage bicycle enthusiasts, though, are happy to pay for authenticity, and professionally renovated vintage bikes tend to hold their value. The High Nelly has a special place in Irish history but more recent bicycles are also considered collectible.

The Raleigh Chopper, made between 1970 and 1980, is now considered a design classic (back then, we thought it was a health hazard). With Harley-Davidson type handlebars, a central gear stick and a long padded seat, it was a cool-looking bike but almost impossible to steer. In 1972, the manufacturers revised the design to prevent the bicycle tipping backwards (that happened a lot).

Vintage Raleigh Choppers aren't expensive to buy. You might pick one up for anything from €50 to €200. A fully restored 1973 traditional red Chopper could be worth €1,000 and a rare model, like the 1977 Silver Jubilee Chopper, might sell for €2,000 in tip-top condition. The Chopper Mark III launched in 2004 helped to revive interest in the originals.

"There's a huge resurgence of interest in vintage bicycles," says Jimmy Dee of the Travelling Bicycle Museum. "I'm trying to save as many as I can." He's recently rescued a 1920s Clown Bike from the Russian State Circus.

The Travelling Bicycle Museum is based in Offaly but travels to schools, fairs and community events across the country. To make a booking, call 086 1708184 or email See also

In the salerooms


The emerald is one of the spookiest stones, but most of the superstitions around them are positive. The ancient Roman scholar Pliny wrote: "Nothing is more intense than the green of emerald and sight is refreshed and restored by gazing upon this stone."

Emerald and diamond ring

Apparently he convinced the Emperor Nero to wear emerald sunglasses. Emeralds guard against dysentery and epilepsy, cure snakebite and ward off witches (yeah, right!). There are plenty of emeralds at O'Reilly's Auction of Fine Jewellery, Watches & Silver, which takes place on April 26 at 1pm. These include an Art Deco emerald and diamond pendant by Hallberg of Sweden on a chain and in its original fitted box (est €10,000 to €11,000); a platinum- mounted emerald and diamond ring (above) (est €3,000 to €3,500) and many more.

If you're buying one as a gift, don't present it on a Monday - that diminishes the emerald's supernatural power! See


The still life paintings 'William Scott' (1913-1989) bring a sense of presence to the most humble of household utensils, treating jugs, bowls, pots and pans with a dignity rarely seen outside the studio pottery movement. His work is expensive and highly regarded.

At De Vere's Irish Art Auction, which took place on April 4, Scott's 'Still Life' (1973), a beautifully simplified abstract treatment of domestic vessels, sold for €140,000. Scott was Irish by the skin of his teeth - his father came from Enniskillen.

In the same sale, 'From The Woods Shadow' (1953) by Jack B Yeats (1871-1957) sold for €82,000. It shows a boy walking in the Phoenix Park, arm extended. It came from the collection of Mr and Mrs Frank Vickerman who donated Yeats' magnificent horse painting 'For the Road' (1951) to the National Gallery of Ireland in 1978. 'Muingingaun' (Maiden Stream) by Hughie O'Donoghue (b. 1947) sold for €35,000, exceeding its upper estimate by €5,000. For full results, see


There were bargains to be had at Whyte's online art auction, which took place on April 3. The emphasis of the sale was on affordable art, with the vast majority of pieces selling for less than €1,000.

Exceptions included a number of paintings by Tony O'Malley (1913-2003), which came from the collection of George and Maura McClelland. A pair of panels by O'Malley: 'Small Panel Painting I' (1975) and 'Small Panel Painting II' (1981) sold for €2,500, while two works in gouache 'Untitled (Still Life)' (1964) and 'Untitled (Crows)' (1973) sold for €1,000 and €1,150 respectively.

'A Cool Spot At Clapper Mill, Lamorna, Cornwall' (1941) by Samuel John Lamorna Birch (1869-1955), an impressionistic pastoral landscape with cattle, sold for €2,300.

For full results, see

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