Seán Lemass and the last Irish links to the British monarchy

Highlights of Whyte’s ‘Eclectic collector’ auction include Lemass’s ministerial box, Joseph Plunkett’s 1916 medal and a piece of shrapnel

 

The George V royal ministerial box used by Seán Lemass in the 1930s has unexpectedly come to light at Whyte’s auctioneers and will go under the hammer in Dublin next Saturday, January 21st.

Lemass, who later became leader of Fianna Fáil and taoiseach was, at the time, minister for industry and commerce in Éamon de Valera’s government. At the time, the Irish Free State had dominion status in the British Empire and George V was king of Great Britain and Ireland. Auctioneer Ian Whyte said “Irish government ministers were technically ministers of the crown and, it seems, were issued with ministerial boxes” that were used to carry official and confidential documents. Lot 203, a black leather box embellished with “the gilt-tooled, crowned Royal Arms of George V and ‘SECRETARY - MR LEMASS’ to the lid” made by A. Armstrong and Co. Ltd., Dublin, is estimated at €250-€350 in Whyte’s “The Eclectic Collectored with “the gilt-tooled, crowned Royal Arms of George V and ‘SECRETARY - MR LEMASS’ to the lid” made by A. Armstrong and Co. Ltd., Dublin, is estimated at €250-€350 in Whyte’s “The Eclectic Collector” auction that goes on view on Wednesday at 38 Molesworth Street.

Whyte said ministerial boxes, which are still used by British Government ministers [known as secretaries of state] to carry official documents, are usually red but those used when travelling are a more discreet black.

He said the Lemass box was the first Irish example he had come across but presumably other Irish ministers were issued with similar boxes “until FF did away with the Free State”. King George V died in 1936 and Ireland adopted a new constitution that removed references to the monarchy.

In 2015, at a Christie’s auction in London, Margaret Thatcher’s red leather prime ministerial dispatch box, embossed in gold with the royal cypher of Queen Elizabeth II, sold for £242,500 (€280,000). The top estimate had been just £5,000 (€5,800) .

Other highlights in Whyte’s include Lot 151, the Easter Rising medal awarded posthumously to Joseph Plunkett, one of the seven signatories of the 1916 Proclamation, estimated at €40,000-€60,000. Last year, Whyte’s offered the same medal at auction with a top estimate of €100,000 but it failed to sell.

One of the quirkiest lots in the sale is Lot 216, a memento of the second World War - “a piece of shrapnel recovered from Rathdown Park, Terenure, following its bombing by German aircraft on 2 January, 1941”. According to a catalogue note, “the bomb fragment bears an indistinct paper label and a military identity disk stamped ‘NO 5 - RATHDOWN - PARK - 1. 1. ‘41’. Whyte’s said “the large shard of metal is horribly jagged and sharp and the residents of Rathdown Park were very lucky not to come into contact with it or its like”. The estimate is €300-€500.

The auction, which takes place in the Freemasons Hall on Saturday from noon, also includes maps, historical manuscripts and documents, other medals and militaria, weapons, sports memorabilia,vintage travel posters, coins and banknotes. Among items of vintage advertising are Lot 362, a “Craven ‘A’ bakelite clock” - a wall clock used to promote the eponymous cigarette brand (€180-€220); and, Lot 369, a “Shankill Rich Cream Toffee” promotional bucket-shaped tin, with lid and swing handle, printed with an image of a girl carrying two pails of cream, manufactured by the Shankill Toffee Works, Shankill, Co Dublin (€80-€120).

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