Pair of James Joyce’s glasses sells for €17,000 at auction

Item one of many artefacts from Irish literary history which were sold on Tuesday

A pair of glasses once belonging to James Joyce was sold for €17,000 at an auction on Tuesday, which also saw the sale of several artefacts from Irish literary history.

The pince-nez style glasses, for which Joyce was synonymous, included gilt fittings and a chain, as well as a velvet lined morocco case. It carried a guide price of €10,000-€15,000.

The item came under the hammer at Fonsie Mealy Auctioneer's sale of "rare books and manuscripts" at the Talbot Hotel in Stillorgan, Dublin.

The auctioneer said the glasses came from the collection of Joyce’s friend Thomas Pugh, who, like Joyce, struggled with his eyesight and was also blind in one eye. Pugh visited the author regularly in his Paris apartment.


“Joyce had trouble with his eyes from early adulthood,” said Fonsie Mealy. “Pugh also had problems with his eyesight, and became blind in later years. Perhaps this was a spare pair, or one Joyce no longer used. Presumably it was given to Pugh on one of his visits to Joyce in Paris.”

Separately, a signed letter from Joyce to Pugh sold for €14,000. The letter, dated 1934, was written on paper of the Grand Hotel Britannique, Spa, in Belgium where Joyce was on holiday. In the letter, he asked Pugh to visit him when next in Paris.

"My American publisher would like to have for a circular he publishes some photographs of scenes mentioned in Ulysses so I wondered if you would consent to have some of yours reproduced ... the Martello Tower (Sandycove), Holles Street Hospital and the view on the strand at Sandymount," wrote Joyce.


The highest price achieved at the auction was €48,000 for a book given by WB Yeats to Irish revolutionary suffragette Maud Gonne. The copy of The Wanderings of Oisin was inscribed: "To my friend Maud Gonne" and was signed by Yeats.

The auctioneer described the book as a “wonderful memento of a loving friendship, which dominated Yeats’ early life and inspired much of his greatest poetry”.

Yeats first met Maud Gonne on January 30th, 1889, a few weeks after publication of the first issue of the book, when she arrived at his father’s home in Bedford Park, London, following an introduction from a mutual friend.

By 1892 Gonne had already declined Yeats’ first proposal of marriage, after which they agreed to remain friends and to co-operate on various projects.

“It was a friendship which unsettled Yeats’ life for more than 20 years, but gave him a magnificent harvest in his poetry,” said Mr Mealy. “Surviving items inscribed by Yeats to Maud Gonne are now of the greatest rarity.”

Elsewhere, a signed copy of Seamus Heaney’s Crediting Poetry Nobel Lecture in 1995 was sold for €10,000. The auctioneer described the item as “exceedingly rare, if not unique”.

The special printing in English and Swedish was circulated at the Nobel ceremony in Stockholm. One of a few copies were collected by Heaney’s friend David Hammond, who was his guest at the ceremony, and later bound for him by Sidney Aitken.

Separately, the first edition of the James Bond book Casino Royale, which was the first novel by the British author Ian Fleming, was sold for €10,000.

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson is an Irish Times reporter