Auction is single largest sale of first edition books in Ireland

Auctioned collection included signed copy of Arthur Miller’s ‘Death of Salesman’

The auction of the book collection owned by retired doctor Philip Murray took place in the Gresham Hotel in Dublin on Tuesday, in what was the single largest sale of first edition books in Ireland.

More than 550 items were included, including a 1940 edition of Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, a signed first edition of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman and a copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses.

According to the auctioneers, about 90 per cent of the books were signed by the author.

Director of the auction George Fonsie Mealy, of Fonsie Mealy Auctioneers, said: "It's a lifetime collection and that rarely comes up, it is such an eclectic mix of Irish and international first editions."


According to Mr Fonsie Mealy, there had been huge interest in viewing the books in the last few days, with significant interest from book collectors and dealers in Ireland and abroad.

The auctioneers also said there was between 100 and 200 people taking part in the auction online.

“There are a lot of the top dealers being represented and there are some universities who are looking at the rare letters and correspondence in the collection as well,” said Mr Fonsie Mealy.

Dr Murray said: “I’ve taken six or seven years to come to this decision to sell them. I have three children and my wife, they are all voracious readers but they’re not collectors, they didn’t want them and they’re right, it’s a big responsibility.

“It took me two years to catalogue this. They are my books, I knew what they were and what to do, but for an ordinary person they wouldn’t know how to go about it and it would end up as a disaster.”


Over the years, Dr Murray developed relationships with a number of authors.

"I was very close to Seamus Heaney, John McGahern, Dermot Healy, a lot of the Irish authors; Cormac McCarthy in America, and Julian Barnes, and I've met a lot of them on numerous occasions," said Dr Murray.

“It’s hard to say goodbye to all of them, but the reason they’re here is to sell them, end of story.

“I had difficulty when I was cataloguing them and I started to take out this book and say, ‘I can’t sell that’, [then] take out the next one and say, ‘I can’t sell that’. So I had to get ruthless.”

One of the attendees at the auction, John Furlong, was friends during his school days with John Banville, while Colm Tóibín was a student in the school where he once worked.

“I have all of their books and most of them are signed and I would be hoping to add to the collection if I can,” said Mr Furlong.

“I limit my interest to a small number of authors rather than being eclectic in my taste, that’s my idea.

“I didn’t come with any specific intentions. It depends sometimes. If you get it at your price it’s the right price, but I won’t get carried away.”

Anne Neville from Limerick was at the auction for one lot in particular.

"I'm here because my daughter is a fan of the Harry Potter series. I used to read them to her when she was younger, but as she grew older she began reading the books by herself.

“I’m trying to see if I can get the set of signed first editions for her 21st birthday.”

The Harry Potter collection went very early in the auction for €1,800, which was double its €800 to €900 estimate.