Envoy's diplomatic bag of swag up for auction

Mon, May 14, 2012, 01:00

WHAT TO do with an unwanted gift from North Korea? At the risk of upsetting the supreme leader, a retired Irish diplomat has sensibly decided to flog it.

The man – a former official with the United Nations who, understandably, does not wish to be named – has decided to sell unwanted gifts he received during his international career.

After decades living overseas, he is now “decluttering”, according to fine art auctioneer Mealy’s, which will sell the curios later this month.

His diplomatic bag of swag includes a distinctly unglamorous canteen of “stainless steel and gilt cutlery” he was given during a visit to Pyongyang, the capital of the communist state. He was there on a mission-impossible to promote tourism.

The cutlery – designed for 12 place settings – is cased in a drab, faux-leather plastic and cardboard box.

In return, the diplomat allegedly “delighted” his hosts by giving them “two cassette tapes of tenor Frank Patterson”, which resulted in the North Korean officials learning to sing Danny Boy in English.

Gift-giving is culturally important in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The country boasts a museum containing presents given by international leaders to the state’s founding father and “eternal president”, Kim Il-sung, and his successor and son, the late Kim Jong-il.

The diplomat reported visiting the museum, known as the International Friendship Exhibition, housed in “an underground building about as big as the Vatican”.

In addition to the display of “a whole train – a gift from Stalin”, he spotted, in a corner of the museum, a cabinet full of Waterford Crystal sent by Irish socialists.

The North Korean cutlery is to be subjected to the indignity of the capitalist free market when it is publicly auctioned, on May 29th, with an estimate of €200 to €300.

Other unloved gifts going under the hammer include a tapestry rug presented to the diplomat by Chinese Communist Party authorities in Hunan province.

Among gifts from the government of the Bahamas are four silver coins, salvaged from a 17th-century Spanish galleon shipwrecked in the Caribbean, and an “Asprey of London” brass world clock showing the time in places where the sun has most definitely set, including Aden and Ceylon.

But the grimmest lot – and decidedly not in the “Ambassador, you’re really spoiling us” category of Ferrero Rocher fantasy – is a bleak “hand-woven wall-hanging” from Norway.

The visibly underwhelmed auctioneer George Gerard Mealy admitted: “It’s not something I’d hang on my wall.”

He said the vendor was still “sorting through his storage” and was likely to consign further unwanted gifts to future auctions.