Monday 14 October 2019

Auctioned off, Pat's astonishing collection

Reporter David Medcalf kept hands tightly to his sides as he attended a sale of old furniture, art and artefacts at the game keeper's lodge at Coolattin in Shillelagh

Pat Martin at the Game Keeper’s Lodge at Coolattin with
some of the auction items.
Pat Martin at the Game Keeper’s Lodge at Coolattin with some of the auction items.
Reporter David Medcalf with the auction catalogue.

If you stand in need of a 19th century copper swing handle coal helmet, dear reader, then you have just missed out on the opportunity of a life-time.

Bray auctioneer Joe Mullen knocked one down for a mere €320 (plus 24.6 per cent buyer's fee) only last week.

It is most unlikely that another copper swing handle coal helmet will come on the market any time soon - certainly not one embossed with stylised foliage as this one was.

This eccentric souvenir of times and firesides long past was one of more than 500 items disposed of in a marathon session.

Joe mounted the podium and took his first offer, for a pair of Viennese wall plaques which attracted €100, a couple of minutes after 12 noon on Tuesday afternoon.

By the time he brought down his gavel on Lot 610 - a five-piece cast iron garden suite which fetched €1,950 - it was just shy of 4.30 in the afternoon. In between Lot 1 and Lot 610, he sold off a bewildering array of material from hulking stone lions to delicate pottery figurines.

The occasion was billed as the auction of antique furniture and fine art from the Game Keeper's Lodge at Coolattin in Shillelagh.

The contents of the lodge were very far from being your average house clearance, for Game Keeper's Lodge resident Pat Martin is not your average householder.

Those lucky enough to have had a browse around his home before the sale entered a world of artefacts, artistry and craftsmanship.

There was practically nothing on show here that might have come from Ikea or Cleary's or Brown Thomas, nothing mass produced except perhaps for a model train or two.

During his time in Shillelagh, Pat surrounded himself largely with stuff that had to be at least a century old and frequently a great deal more venerable than that.

It came as something of a jolt to spot a spanking modern television in among all the old stuff. Its clean black lines were a complete contrast to the Regency rosewood and brass inlaid side cabinet on which it was standing.

The TV was not for sale, while the cabinet with its shaped pilasters and scroll legs (whatever they may be) became Lot 65, which later went for €1,600 to a telephone bidder.

The solid grey lodge, separated from the public road by smart black railing is a remnant of the former Fitzwilliam Estate with all its grandiose glory. Pre-auction visitors to the house quickly became aware that just about everything was up for sale as Pat Martin prepares to 'down-size' as he puts it.

A smaller home will mean no room for Lot 254, a pair of 19th century walnut bedside chests, or for Lot 533, a three-piece Chesterfield suite from around the year 1850.

The walls of a more compact resident will not stretch to displaying all the paintings and framed prints which Pat has accumulated.

The former proprietor of Old Charm in Bunclody and later of Woodview House auction house further downstream in the Slaney Valley has always been drawn to fine old things, and now he was letting them all go.

There was a lot number attached to each of the walking canes in the porch - one stick a silver bound and another with an ivory handle.

The very carpet underfoot was also earmarked for sale, an oval Chinese rug with a floral pattern, destined as Lot 24 to go to a buyer willing to part with €220. The various pieces harked back to an age of Waterford crystal decanters and Georgian silver services.

No doubt the work of hauling the coal helmet - helmet being a swanky word for a scuttle or bucket - from bunker to hearth was doubtless left to the servants.

This was a world of tables in infinite variety. They had dining tables for dinner, card tables for cards and occasional tables for, yes, occasions.

And that is not to mention the supper tables, banded tables, games tables, pod tables, side tables, console tables, work tables and goodness knows what else tables.

Antique furniture spawns a vocabulary all its obscure own, replete with references to cabriole legs and gilt brass mounts, baize-lined interiors and ram head masks.

What the gentry and well-to-do, who could afford the willow patterned plates and or leather bound travelling cases, got up to in the privacy of their own bedrooms is anyone's guess.

Lot 253 was a most extraordinary bed, described as a 'mahogany half tester', with a canopy fit for a pope at the pillow end and a massive slab of tropical rainforest timber at the other end - worth €1,100 in modern money.

In the bedroom across the landing, a copper and brass samovar (Lot 262, €190) was available to serve a breakfast-time cup of tea

And next door, one would wake from slumber to meet the slightly intimidating gaze of Robert Emmet in full military regalia peering down from the mantelpiece.

The brave rebel was committed to canvas by a not so terribly famous artist called J Lynch who was a member of the so-called English School of painters - Lot 295, €300.

If Pat Martin was feeling in any way sentimental about parting with all his treasures, then he did a fine job of concealing his emotions.

He offered to show your reporter how to wind up Lot 51, a grandfather clock which continues to tell accurate time more than two and a half centuries after it was manufactured in Dublin in 1740 by a genius called George Martin.

Its reassuring tick-tock provided a steady, soothing backing track to life in the lodge.

The phrase 'grandfather clock' was not the official description, with the catalogue preferring to hype up the discreet charms of a 'Georgian Irish longcase clock' with its 'swan nick pediment'.

The clock, the tables, the beds, the walking canes the rugs and all the rest stayed put while the sale was conducted 15 minutes drive away, across the Carlow border.

The vendor did not make the journey to Tullow, indicating that he would instead follow proceedings on line via computer.

The team from Mullen's, led by Joe Mullen himself, set up shop meanwhile in a suite at the Mount Wolseley Hotel, where pictures of each lot were called up in turn on a PowerPoint slide show. The auctioneer, resplendent in pinstripe suit as he waved his gavel from his lofty perch up on the podium, had support staff fielding bids which came in on-line or via the telephone.

But most of the action was in the room, from a select audience of no more than 20 impassive people who had been issued with numbered bidding paddles.

Maybe those who waved their paddles were private collectors. Maybe they were dealers. Maybe they were at the Mount Wolseley looking for a bargain or a treat.

Whatever their reason for taking part, they needed to be quick on the draw, for Joe Mullen in full flow does not hang about.

The man at the head of a very well-oiled machine, he took his audience at a swift lick through the official description of the item in each case and then at whirlwind speed through the bidding.

Proceedings stumbled slightly over Lot 81, a leather padded library chair, as offers climbed from €1,500 up to €2,300 - short of the €2,500-plus guide price.

There the matter hung in the air before the chair, with its 'carved arm supports and figural masks' was formally withdrawn.

In the general helter-skelter, this seemed to take an age but your reporter timed it at exactly 46 seconds. Many of the lots took no more than 20 seconds as Joe kept the patter to a minimum.

Dealing with Lot 21 he trotted out a familiar auctioneer's line when the opening bid of €80 for a porcelain figure was well below the target price: 'It's not where we start that matters, it's where we finish.' But this was a rare shaft of levity. In the end the gavel came down at €170.

The library chair was not the only piece that failed to find a buyer.

Demand appeared dull for some of the heftier furniture which looks splendid but may not fit in well with modern living.

And Pat Martin's fascinating collection of old guns did not have the bidders waving their paddles or hitting the bid button on their web-sites with any great gusto.

Lot 340 - a most unusual duelling pistol of 1825 vintage - did not sell and there were no takers either for a couple of sporting guns.

Similarly passed over was Lot 346, an 1861 'rook gun' which belonged to a gentleman called Thomas Arthur Grattan Bellew, presumably for blasting the crows on his land in Co. Galway. Not even the Bellew family connections to famous parliamentarian Henry Grattan sufficed to draw the bidding above €1,900, well below the asking price.

Still, most of the lots were cleared on a day when the contents of the Gamekeeper's Lodge generated tens of thousands of euro.

Wicklow People