Cashing in on 1916 memorabilia

Whyte’s, Adams and Fonsie Mealy are holding major auctions of 1916 artefacts

Cometh the hour, cometh the auctioneer. After much anticipation, collectors of 1916 Rising memorabilia will discover the real value of their mementoes in the months ahead. Dates have been announced for three major history auctions in Dublin. The first, at Whyte's in Molesworth Street, is on Sunday, March 13th, followed by an auction at Adam's in St Stephen's Green on Tuesday, April 19th. And finally, Fonsie Mealy Auctioneers will hold their sale in the Gresham Hotel on O'Connell Street – opposite the GPO and chosen specially for the occasion – on Saturday, April 23rd, the eve of the centenary of the Rising, which began on April 24th, 1916.

All three auction houses are still accepting consignments – and while the emphasis is on items relating to the Rising, the sales will also include historical memorabilia from all eras. The auctioneers have already said that they are getting in some very interesting consignments and the consensus is that for anyone planning to sell 1916 items, this year – with interest at an all-time high – is the moment.

Copy of Proclamation

During the economic crash, auction prices declined for almost all art and collectibles – 1916 Rising memorabilia included. The most dramatic example was for an original copy of the Proclamation which sold at Adam’s last year for €90,000; seven years earlier, the same copy had made €240,000.

Most copies of the Proclamation were destroyed during the Rising. Of the estimated 1,000 copies of the document printed, about 50 have survived. Of these, 25 are in museums and public collections, and the remaining 25 are in private hands. About half a dozen have appeared at auction in the past decade and while the price can depend on quality and provenance the average price had dropped to “about €100,000”.

But there was good news – at least for vendors – at the end of 2015, suggesting that prices may well be on the rise. At Sotheby’s in London in December, a copy of the Proclamation sold for £305,000 (approximately €420,000), greatly exceeding the top pre-sale estimate of £120,000.

Before the Dublin auctions, however, the first 1916-related auction takes place in New York on Thursday when the medals specialist Spink Auctioneers will offer some 70 lots from the "Liberty Collection" of medals, historical documents, uniforms and other artefacts relating to the 1916 Easter Rising and the War of Independence – and includes items from both sides in the conflict.

Medals to Volunteers

Among the highlights are medals awarded to various 1916 Volunteers, including: Seán T O’Kelly, who was in the GPO (and who later became the second president of Ireland), estimated at $12,000-$15,000;

Peter Macken

, Boland’s Mills Garrison ($15,000-$20,000); Thomas O’Reilly, GPO Garrison ($15,000-$20,000); Christopher O’Reilly, Boland’s Mills Garrison ($6,000-$8,000); and

Bridget Connolly

, Cumann na mBan, who served in the GPO ($7,000-$9,000).

Among those on the British side involved in the Rising were Maj Gen William Lowe, 7th Dragoon Guards, who accepted the unconditional surrender of Patrick Pearse and whose medals and honours including a silver breast badge for "The Most Honourable Order of the Bath, Military Division" are estimated at $15,000-$20,000.

For further information, and to view an online catalogue, see spink.com.

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