Synge letter a sleeper at Hanna rare books auction


A JM Synge letter made eight times its estimate at Mealy’s auction this week of the late Fred Hanna’s private collection

AUCTION-GOERS at Mealy’s sale on Tuesday stood for a minute’s silence in memory of Fred Hanna before the late bookseller’s private collection of rare books, maps and manuscripts went under the hammer at the D4Berkeley Hotel in Dublin 4 this week.

An oil painting titled No 27 Nassau Street- Fred Hanna’s Bookshopby artist Diarmuid J Boyd was withdrawn just before the auction commenced.

Of the 670 lots, 85 per cent sold for a total of €350,000 (estimate €200,000-€300,000). Buyers included private collectors from Ireland and overseas, rare book dealers like David Cunningham of Dublin’s Cathach Books and the National Library of Ireland.

Items featuring illustrations by artist Jack B Yeats were among the best sellers (see panel with Top 5) but an archive of 13 letters by poet W B Yeats (€8,000-€14,000) failed to sell. with bidding stalling at €7,500.

The auction’s sleeper turned out to be a letter written by playwright John Millington Synge on a single folded sheet a few months before his death. It made €8,500 – eight times its highest estimate.

A two-volume, cased facsimile copy of The Book of Kells,published by Verlay, Luzern in 1990, made €8,000 (€4,000-€6,000).

A 19th century angling classic, The Erne, Its Legends and Its Fly Fishingby the Rev Henry Newland made €820 (€500-€700) and one of 250 copies of a 1971 limited illustrated edition of a favourite children’s novel, The Wind in the Willowsby Kenneth Grahame, sold for €2,800 (€700-€1,000).

Among other highlights, a 17th-century copy of the Books of Old Testament, translated into Irish as Leabhuir na Seintiomna, made €3,700 (€2,500-€3,500); arare copy of Patrick Browne’s The Civil and Natural History of Jamaicasold for €2,500 (€1,400-€1,600); and a 1909 copy of The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimmillustrated by Arthur Rackham made €1,050 (€400-€600).

Hoarders will be pleased to note that a five shillings ticket stub for “Mr Charles Dickens’s Farewell Readings, Ulster Hall, Belfast, Friday Evening, January 8, 1869” sold for €300 while a programme for the first night of Seán O’Casey’s The Plough and the Starsat the Abbey Theatre on February 9th, 1926 made €900.

Among the quirkier items, a French translation of the Táin Bó Cúalange, a saga titled Enlèvement du Taureau Divin et des Vaches De Cooleymade €240.

A forthcoming film adaptation, directed by Brendan Gleeson, was believed to have spurred the intense bidding for a signed first edition of Flann O’Brien’s 1939 novel, At Swim-Two-Birdswhich sold for €3,400 – four times its estimate of €700-€900.

But despite the worldwide success of The Commitments, a pristine copy of Roddy Doyle’s 1987 novel made just €300 – failing to reach its estimate of €400-€600.

A Dubliner who didn’t wish to be named decided to have one last splurge and fulfilled a 30-year quest to purchase a first edition copy of Ulyssesdespite claiming he could hardly afford it in these troubled times.

Mealy’s bestsellers

1 Broadsidespublished by the Dun Emer Press, Dundrum illustrated by Jack B Yeats, €12,000 (€10,000-€15,000)

2Lady Gregory’s copy of The Aran Islandsby JM Synge with drawings by Jack B Yeats, €11,000 (€8,000-€12,000)

3 A Picturesque Tour of Killarneyby Jonathan Fisher €11,000 (€8,000-€12,000).

4A letter dated 9th December 1908 written by John Millington Synge during his final illness €8,500 (€800-€1,200)

5First edition copy of Ulyssesby James Joyce €8,250 (€6,000-€8,000)