Joyce's Ulysses specs fetch €17k at auction

George Mealy with the James Joyce glasses and case. Picture: Dylan Vaughan.

Sarah Slater

The spectacles worn by James Joyce while writing his major work Ulysses have been sold at auction to an Irish buyer for €17,000.

However, there was drama before the winning bid was made. The original and iconic pair of pince-nez glasses were conservatively estimated to be worth up to €15,000.


Bidding started at €6,000 with frantic telephone bidders vying for the much sought-after glasses.

When the price reached €15,000 between the final two bidders, a phone connection failed, resulting in the auction being stalled for several minutes until the caller was reached again. However, the bidder lost out in the end.

Auctioned by Fonsie Mealy Auctioneers at the Talbot Hotel in Dublin, the glasses came with a velvet-lined case.

"We are delighted that the glasses went to an Irish buyer and they will hopefully stay in the country," said auctioneer George Mealy.

"The glasses were being sold by the Pugh family and there had been significant interest from China especially, and also in Japan, Australia and the US.

"Joyce had trouble with his eyes from early adulthood, as did Thomas Pugh, and the spectacles were gifted to him on one of his visits to Joyce in Paris.

"The glasses are a tangible link to Joyce and they give the world a vision of what he was seeing while writing Ulysses. Indeed, they provide a chance to look through Joyce's eyes."

For many years it was accepted that Joyce was severely shortsighted. However, evidence in 2011 proves this to be wrong as he suffered from far-sightedness, not short-sightedness. The new diagnosis was revealed in the British Medical Journal after closer inspection of his prescription glasses.

Two autographed letters sent by Joyce to Pugh, both dated 1934, were also up for grabs with a guide price of €8,000 and €6,000. Bidding for the first of the letters started at €3,500 and was eventually sold for €14,000 to a telephone bidder, with the second selling for €4,000.