National Museum seeks wealthy donor to buy silver collection

Dispersal and sale of “exceptionally rare” collection of antique Irish silver would “represent a great loss to the country” says director of the National Museum of Ireland.

George I silver teapot (1723) made in Cork by Thomas Lilly

George I silver teapot (1723) made in Cork by Thomas Lilly

Sat, Jan 11, 2014, 01:00

An exceptionally rare collection of antique Irish silver, valued at €1.75 million, is to be broken up and sold unless the National Museum of Ireland can find a wealthy donor within the next six weeks.

The collection consists of 107 items made by renowned Dublin and provincial silversmiths in the 18th and 19th centuries. It is owned by a group of private Irish collectors, including Dublin antiques dealer and silver specialist William Crofton.

Mr Crofton told The Irish Times he had offered the National Museum first refusal as he believed the collection was of such importance that it ought to remain in the State. However, the museum does not have the funds and is hoping that a wealthy philanthropist might buy the collection and donate it to the State.

The museum’s director, Raghnall Ó Floinn, said the dispersal of the exceptionally rare collection would represent a great loss to the country and that “its purchase and donation to the national collections would be a philanthropic gesture of the highest calibre”.

The collection includes Irish Georgian and Victorian silver teapots, trays, salvers, bowls, candlesticks and items of historical significance such as a silver trowel used to lay the foundations for New Geneva, a proposed settlement of Swiss Huguenots in 18th-century Co Waterford; a silver freedom box presented in 1810 by Trinity College Dublin to Robert Peel, chief secretary in Ireland and later British prime minister; and a sliver presentation trowel commemorating the Dublin Public Abattoir in 1880.

Jennifer Goff, a curator at the museum’s decorative arts branch in Collins Barracks described it as an “invaluable collection of Irish silver of truly national significance” which would complement the museum’s existing holdings and “fill in key gaps” as it contains pieces by makers not already represented in the collections.

The museum has agreed to name the collection after the donor and to display it at Collins Barracks. However, “should the donor wish to remain anonymous, the museum would respect this and anonymity is provided for in the donation process”.

Mr Crofton, whose antique Irish silver business operates in Dublin and London under the name L & W Duvallier, said that while he was a reluctant vendor, the joint owners had made an irrevocable decision to sell.

The collection, he said, would be held “in reserve until the end of February at which stage they [the individual items] become available to purchase”. Mr Crofton said a donor could benefit from significant tax relief as well as the honour and glory.

Legislation permits donors of heritage items to the national collections to benefit from offsetting the value of the donation against income, corporation and capital gains taxes. The tax relief could be as high as 80 per cent of the donation’s value. Any such deal would require the approval of the Revenue Commissioners and a selection committee of cultural experts appointed by the Minister for Arts and Culture.

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