It is that time of year when many feel the dread of trying to choose the ideal gift for a loved one. A greener alternative is to consider antique or vintage items.
Besides having withstood the test of time, period pieces are created from solid materials, by craftspeople – some of whose skills are now confined to the annals of history.
In addition, these treasured items are non-disposable and come with something money cannot buy – a past and provenance, and in turn we add a little to their legacy.
Antique silver is good value and prices depend on whether the item is silver plated or sterling silver, and how old and rare the piece is. Gone are the days when cleaning silver was a daunting task; the new silversmith gloves and cleaning foam by Hagerty does the job quickly and easily – available online from €5.
Old silver matchbox and cigarette boxes make super receptacles for home office items such as memory sticks, pens and pencils and making a more discerning alternative to a plastic office tidy.
The Silver Shop in Powerscourt Centre has a lovely silver matchbox holder (1840) for €45 which would fit the bill perfectly, as would the art deco silver cigarette box (€640).
For the season ahead the shop has some great culinary offerings, such as Stilton cheese scoops from €35, asparagus tongs and interesting candle snuffers from €50. Old cigarette cases are seeing a new lease of life as business card holders, though some being petite – will have to have customised cards – but this in itself would make a thoughtful gift.
While few of us use sugar cubes any more, the current trend for gin and tonics has created a demand for old sugar tongs, now reused for serving ice cubes and lemon slices. Michael Connell on Francis Street has an array of these starting from €50, as does the Silver Shop.
Wine bottle holders are another favourite; instead of gifting a bottle of wine this Christmas, consider a holder which elegantly cradles a bottle and makes it easier to pour. Prices start at about €45 for a silver plated unit all the way up to €1,000 and above, depending on provenance and age. There is a particular set in O’Sullivan Antiques on Francis Street, whose history and detail is worthy of museum status.
Of interest for those with a penchant for spirits is a lovely silver plated tantalus holding three original crystal bottles, with a double locking system – O'Sullivan Antiques (€1,850). And if a cocktail cabinet is on your list, Niall Mullen on Francis Street has some great art deco pieces from €995.
For more unusual gifts, sturdy antique walking sticks make for good presents for hillwalkers – Michael Connell has a selection from €70, and O Sullivan Antiques collection includes an incredible ladies sword stick where the walking stick acts as a scabbard (€700).
For horseracing fans, Michael Connell Antiques has a walking stick with a foldaway telescope in a brass handle (€650), and Garret Weldon on Clarendon Street has "the largest trophy we have ever had in stock". From 1899, by Waterhouse Silversmiths in Dublin, the silver horseracing trophy doubles as a champagne bucket and would easily accommodate a couple of jeroboams (€20,000).
O Sullivan Antiques has a tiny string barrel thread holder dating from the early 19th century. Hand turned in lignum vitae, which legend states was the wood used in Merlin's wand from Knights of the Round Table; it would make a great present for those interested in dressmaking (€350), as would the carved wooden plant stand (€2,750) which once graced the atelier of Sybil Connolly – couturier to Jackie Kennedy and Elizabeth Taylor.
De Burca Rare Books in Blackrock has an abundance of volumes from €5. Of Irish interest is JM Synge's The Aran Islands with hand painted drawings by Jack B Yeats (€1,675), and The Bosun and the Bob-Tailed Comet by Jack B Yeats with 20 hand coloured illustrations, and signed by the artist (€5,875). A signed copy of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is also available for €1,250.
The current trend might be for Fitbits – hardly an item worth bequeathing – but a vintage Breitling pocket stopwatch at €45 is something for those on a budget to consider – from John Brereton on Capel Street, as is a ladies 1996 Cartier Santos Ronde in steel and gold – boxed with relevant paperwork (€2,450). The shop carries a large selection of antique and vintage watches including Rolex, Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin.
And finally to jewels. Garrett Weldon on Clarendon Street has a set of emerald and diamond channel set drop earrings (1915), of which he says: "If these were a painting – they would be a Picasso as their vibrancy is so rare" (€27,000).
Should one feel really generous, an art nouveau diamond and emerald bracelet with over 15 carats of diamonds would complement the earrings beautifully (€49,000).
Matthew Weldon at Courtville Antiques in Powerscourt Townhouse, has an 8.3 carat natural Ceylon sapphire and diamond ring – being unheated is what makes this ring special (€15,995) and Michael Connell on Francis Street has a unisex Bvlgari ring with a 3-carat emerald and two carats of diamonds on white gold (€5,500).
While John Farrington carries a selection of antique jewellery priced from €500– €10,000, there are some staggering pieces in his shop on Drury Street.
A Chaumet necklace from 1910, with a central 3-carat diamond, and nine further diamonds in excess of one carat each, looks more like a modern creation.
As Farrington explains “so much modern jewellery is actually inspired by original designs, and this is why this particular piece appears contemporary” (€125,000).
As does the rather modest-looking emerald bead necklace, which is “already on many customers’ wish-lists”. It is only by taking a closer look that one notices that the beads are in fact whole emeralds and diamonds strung together by platinum. It is certainly a piece that could be worn daily due to its demure appearance (€65,000).
A good place to start hunting for antiques is the Irish Antique Dealers Association’s website – www.iada.ie, all of whom abide by a common code of practice.
Some specialise in very old rare items, hence having a more expensive inventory, but if it is bargains and banter you seek; Michael Connell on Francis Street is a treasure trove for both.