The first book by an Irish author to write for a printing press, a set of seven Windsor chairs in elm, a circular wine cooler and a painting of The Queen's Hotel, Queenstown (now the Commodore Hotel, Cobh), are the sort of unusual or rare lots that excited much interest among collectors in Ireland in 2020.
At this stage, it feels as if January, February and early March 2020 were part of a different, far away era. Just before the world changed very fast Sheppard's came up with a large c1830 circular sarcophagus form wine cooler, probably by Williams and Gibton.
It made a respectable €22,000 at a genuine old-fashioned auction. Now transited to an online model Sheppard's will offer Hannibal Lecter's mask at their sale of residual contents from Castlehyde, the Fermoy home of Lord of the Dance Michael Flatley, next Thursday and Friday.
The world had already moved on when Woodwards, who are planning one more sale before Christmas, offered a detailed painting of The Queen's Hotel, Queenstown (now the Commodore Hotel, Cobh), at their very first online-only auction in May. The Walter Richards work, dating to the first decade of the last century, made €1,500 at hammer.
Even though our world had been in lockdown it was apparent that buyers and sellers remained driven by the same impulses to buy and to sell, collectors have not gone away and jewellery exerts the same magnetic pull it has always done.
In July Fonsie Mealy, who will hold a Christmas sale on December 9 and 10, offered a landmark of Irish printed literature, the first edition of the first book by an Irish author to write for a printing press as distinct from a scriptorum.
An incunabulum (a book printed before 1501) is always a rarity. The commentary provided by the Franciscan Archbishop Maurice O'Fihely of Tuam into Blessed John Duns was printed in 1497 in Venice. The book made a hammer price of €20,000.
Lynes and Lynes, whose next sale is on December 5, achieved €3,100 for a set of seven Windsor chairs in elm at their first online-only auction last June. Auctioneer Denis Lynes reports that the change to online yielded good results. He cited examples like Shipping boats at Carraroe by Charles Vincent Lamb which made €3,200 in June.
An unusual collection of English Victorian music hall and circus posters made €1,100 in the same sale. In their September auction Boats at Ballinacurra, a watercolour by Lady Kate Dobbin, made €2,500 over a top estimate of €500.
Way back in February the sale of The Splash by David Hockney for £23.1 million at Sotheby's in London brought all the usual oohs and aahs and gasps in the crowded saleroom.
Contrast that with the sale to a telephone bidder of a flawless white 102-carat diamond for $15.7 million dollars at Sotheby's in Hong Kong in October. It was the first time in history that a diamond was sold in this way. It was without a reserve and experts said it was a bargain. This month a rare 14.83 carat fancy vivid purple-pink diamond went for $26.6 million at Sotheby's in Geneva.
Gemstones exert a powerful pull over many collectors.
In Ireland, diamonds and other stones that are more affordable are regularly sold at auction and at specialist houses like O'Reilly's of Francis Street in Dublin. They too have adapted to the new model and the December sale will be a 48 hour timed online event that gets underway on December 9.
Way back in January, a collection of 21 Claddagh rings from the collection of the Hon Garech Browne, founder of Claddagh Records, sold for a total of £75,759 at Sotheby's in London. A c1730 ring made by Thomas Meade of Kinsale or Galway sold for £9,375.
Doneraile-based auctioneer Aidan Foley was one of the first to embrace online-only sales when lockdown began. He has held a number of successful events from Doneraile, Sixmilebridge and Kilcolgan, where there is a sale at 11 am today. Among the lots on offer is a World War I Iron Cross (€150-€200) and an artwork by Markey Robinson. This will be followed by a large sale in Doneraile on December 6, 7 and 8.
Antique fairs have taken a considerable hit. It is impossible to have one during a lockdown. TEFAF, the daddy of them all, moved their autumn New York fair online and it proved to be a considerable success.
In Ireland, Hibernian Antique Fairs have now held three online events. Word is spreading about them and a fourth virtual fair is planned for December 5.