Adam's is temporarily relocating to Slane Castle in Co Meath next week for its sixth annual Country House Collections auction. It is the most interesting and ambitious auction since the banking crisis of 2008, and the outcome is likely to provide an insight into the much-touted economic recovery.
Last year, bidders spent almost €1.5 million at Slane; this year, Adam’s is hoping to realise up to €2.25 million.
The catalogue, a glossy, 336-page, €20 doorstopper, features the possessions of the Anglo-Irish gentry of the Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian eras. The tone is set by a cover image of tweedy toffs sporting whiskers, sideburns and shotguns at a hunting party in Ross Hill, Co Galway, in 1877.
Adam’s notes that “more from these houses has survived, contrary to the popular narrative of destruction, than was perhaps assumed” and that, out of the “attics and basements of damp country houses” has emerged a treasure trove despite the “fossilised dog turd, dead bats and skeletal birds”.
There's a lavish array of silver, pictures, gilded mirrors, porcelain and crystal from the great Irish houses, including Beaulieu, Carriglass Manor, Edgeworthstown House, Carton House, Headfort House and Ashford Castle.
Among the highlights are mementoes from the gilded life of Lord and Lady Ardilaun, whose country house was Ashford Castle at Cong, Co Mayo, and whose Dublin residence was a mansion, St Anne's in Raheny. A sumptuous silver-embellished mahogany casket presented by the Royal Dublin Society to Lord Ardilaun in 1914, the year before he died, is €6,000-€10,000. Lady Ardilaun's wonderful Victorian photograph albums include one, estimated at €5,000-€8,000, containing an unpublished photograph of Oscar Wilde at a house party in Ashford Castle in 1878.
A memoir by Lady Ardilaun includes a photograph of herself wearing her ceremonial robes and coronet attending the coronation of Edward VII in 1902 (€500-€1,000). The visitors' book for St Anne's (€1,000-€1,500) contains names including Hugh Lane, the Prince of Wales (later George V) and Neville Chamberlain.
The "Maria Edgeworth table", an early 19th-century Scagliola-topped table given to the Irish writer by a Livorno merchant, and described as of "major national importance", is estimated at €40,000-€50,000. An Irish bog-yew teapoy (a table with a container for tea) made for the 1851 Great Exhibition in London by Arthur Jones and Co is described as "a magnificent example of high-Victorian cabinet-making coming from one of Dublin's finest furniture firms". A figure of Queen Victoria at the pinnacle has, sadly, had her head lopped off, so she would not be amused by the estimate of €15,000-€25,000.