Arts&Antiques: Rare Jack B Yeats book in sale for bibliophiles

Private library of John Wyse Jackson goes under the hammer at Purcell auctioneers

The private library of bibliophile John Wyse Jackson, who died suddenly on February 19th, 2020, will be auctioned by Purcell auctioneers in an online-only sale on Wednesday, March 24th.

Wyse Jackson began his literary journey studying English at Trinity College Dublin – where he was president of the Philosophical Society – followed by a 25-year tenure at John Sandoe Books, the independent and much-loved bookseller in London, where, in due course he became a director.

While in London, the noted Joycean scholar wrote and edited several books in addition to lecturing and broadcasting on a variety of subjects. He was also one of the founders of a small publishing company, Chelsea Press, whose bestsellers include the fine memoir, The Hidden Damage: A Personal Pilgrimage with WH Auden to Post-War Germany, written by Irish writer James Stern.

A prolific author, his own contributions included three works on Oscar Wilde and three collections of what he termed Ireland's Other Poetry, along with edited collections of Brian O'Nolan, one of Wyse Jackson's personal favourites.


Described in his obituary as a "bibliophile in the literal as well as the metaphorical sense", the Kilkenny native moved back to Ireland along with his family in 2003. He settled in Gorey where he established Zozimus Bookshop, so named after the Blind Bard of the Liberties, the popular street rhymer and balladeer from mid-19th century Dublin.

Irish and international

The sale of more than 800 lots represents his personal collection and reflects his own interest, with in excess of 10,000 books amassed over more than four decades of collecting, to include modern literature, both Irish and international, along with many signed first editions.

"The sale has already attracted unprecedented levels of enquiries and bidding registrations even before the catalogue went online," according to auctioneer Conor Purcell, indicating the interest in Wyse Jackson's literary assemblage.

Highlights of the sale include lot 474, a limited edition of Ulysses by James Joyce, published for the Egoist Press, London by John Rodker, Paris 1922, (number 1,343 of 2,000 copies on handmade paper, €1,000-€2,000), along with lot 594, Life in the West of Ireland, drawn and painted by Jack B Yeats (1912) which includes a rare pen sketch inside the cover, and signed Jack B Yeats, July 14th, 1945, in a blue gilt cloth (€300-€600).

As Wyse-Jackson was a respected authority on Flann O’Brien, the sale lists numerous works by the Irish novelist and satirical playwright including lot 273, The Poor Mouth (An Béal Bocht), A Bad Story about the Hard Life, a limited edition (number 18 of a run of 130) which also has limited edition engravings (€300-€600).

Once described by Peter Costello, with whom he collaborated on the ground-breaking biography of James Joyce's father John Stanislaus Joyce, as "a professional un-specialist" on account of his wide ranging literary interests, his large collection of books dedicated to The Beatles (lot 698, €40-€80) also feature in the sale.

One of the many curiosities listed is lot 657, A Man Must Fight by Gene Tunney. The first edition (London, 1933) is accompanied by a Department of Agriculture foot and mouth disease precautionary disinfectant card, signed by Gene Tunney, World Heavyweight Boxing Champion, 1926-1928, when he visited Ireland in the 1950s (€80-€120).