Relics of a glamorous age


An auction at Sheppard’s is not for the faint-hearted because, with over 1,600 lots due to go under the hammer, even browsing the catalogue requires time and effort, writes MICHAEL PARSONS

THE HIT TELEVISION series Downton Abbey is influencing public taste just like Upstairs, Downstairs years ago,” according to fine art and antiques auctioneer Michael Sheppard.

Fans of the ITV period drama will swoon over the catalogue for next week’s three-day auction at Sheppard’s in Durrow, Co Laois. In the first episode of series three, which aired last weekend, residents of television’s grandest house were introduced to cocktails – the fuel of the Jazz Age – although Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess of Grantham, inevitably cocked a snook at yet another outrageous American import.

The style and trappings of 1920s and 1930s life are destined to become fashionable as the series continues to attract huge audiences.

Some of the more eye-catching lots in Sheppard’s auction capture the spirit of the art deco era including: silver cockerel cocktail sticks, €80-€100; a tortoiseshell dressing table set, €150-€250; two pairs of porcelain and bronze ladies of fashion figurines, €500-€800 a pair; and a burr walnut and zebra wood dining suite €6,000-€9,000.

The auction is not for the faint-hearted because, with over 1,600 lots due to go under the hammer, even browsing the catalogue requires time and effort. A visit to the viewing, which begins this morning, is well worthwhile. The theme is ‘The Legacy of the Big House’ and besides the expected conventional furniture, pictures, glass and porcelain are numerous examples of the weird and wonderful from scrimshaw to taxidermy.

Among many fascinating lots is 1,058, a little mahogany-cased Edwardian roulette game, based on horse-racing at Sandown, which would make a wonderful gift for a man interested in horses and gambling and is surely worth a punt at the modest estimate of €100-€150.

A ‘Princess Mary’ brass box with tobacco and cigarettes (still intact) sent to a Tipperary soldier during the first World War is valued at just €50-€80.

Among numerous highlights are Co Monaghan “Grand Jury” plates, rare Belleek pieces, large Waterford glass chandeliers, an opulent 18th century Meissen mantel clock, a superb Georgian mahogany plate bucket and a watercolour, The Whisper by Mildred Anne Butler.

On Thursday morning, an antiquarian library of medical books will go under the hammer. They were collected by the Sheil family, a well-known Co Donegal medical family who founded the Sheil Hospital in their hometown of Ballyshannon in the 19th century.

The books, which will be sold individually, offer a riveting insight into Georgian and Victorian-era medical thinking and titles include an 1824 edition of Thomas Copeland’s Observations on the Principal Diseases of the Rectum and Anus; and Diseases of the Eye by William MacKenzie, published in 1840.

Sheppard’s ‘The Legacy of the Big House’, Durrow, Co Laois. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday next, September 25th, 26th and 27th.