Life’s Work: Anne-Louise Mitchell, antiques auctioneer, Roscrea, Co Tipperary
Good pieces of antique furniture don’t tend to depreciate, and can be sold on when you tire of them
Anne-Louise Mitchell took over the family art and antiques auctioneering business – Victor Mitchell’s Auctions, in Roscrea, Co Tipperary – in 2000. The auction rooms were founded in 1962 by her father, Victor Mitchell, who had previously run an antiques shop in the town centre. The saleroom is located in a Georgian courtyard on the Mount Butler estate, three kilometres outside the town, which her great grand-uncle George Mitchell, who was the Chief of Police in Sydney, purchased from Lady Cardin in 1858, on his return home from Australia, having lost one leg in an accident.
What’s your background?
I went to boarding school at the Salesian Convent, Gloster House in Birr, Co Offaly, which has since closed down. Then I started to work for Ulster Bank and worked at their branches in Tallaght and Terenure in Dublin.
The banking industry gave me a good financial grounding. But I took a sabbatical in 1997 and went on a year-long working holiday in Australia. I worked for a transport company and they were very good employers. I took the ferry across Sydney Harbour to work every morning. It was quite a change from small-town Ireland.
The company gave me a farewell gift of a waxed jacket, made by the famous Australian clothing company Driza-Bone, which they thought I’d need back in Ireland. I still have it.
Before coming home, I did a back-packing tour of New Zealand, China and then took the Trans-Siberian train to Moscow. I met a lot of very interesting people. In Russia, I visited St Petersburg and saw the amazing Winter Palace covered in snow. I returned overland via Finland and Scandinavia, and bought a white fur coat in Helsinki, which I wore for my arrival back in Dublin. I still have that coat too.
How and why did you get into the business?
I recall coming home from primary school on auction days and being given the job of “pointing out the pictures”; using a stick to identify each picture to buyers in the saleroom.
I used to go with my father on his buying trips all around the country, including Francis Street in Dublin. His estate car would bulge with antiques for the journey home, even the roof rack would have a couple of pine dressers on it, and perhaps even a wardrobe. In 1998, I left my job in the bank and officially joined the family firm, but the auction rooms were always part of my life.
While working, I also did various part-time courses including a two-year diploma in public relations and various auctioneering courses.
Over the past 18 years, I’ve had the privilege of seeing many interesting items go under the hammer, from relics of old wars to world-travelled items, and also country house contents from the attic to the kitchen. The mix is tremendous. Last year, I sold a 20ft by 18ft tattered wool floor rug for € 2,400 to a buyer in Texas, who had seen it on our website and recognised it as a 300-year-old Turkish rug. In the same auction, a 1929 HMV Gramophone, model 209, sold for €4,300. The estimate had been just € 100. The vendor was delighted.
What advice would you give collectors/investors?
Antique furnishings give personality to people’s homes and they can mix well into contemporary surroundings. Antiques are also “green”, in that they are sustainable and when you no longer love an item you can sell it on again, so it won’t end up in a skip or landfill site.
Also, good pieces of antique furniture don’t tend to depreciate in value like mass-produced high-street furniture. Traditional antiques are currently very good value. Before you make a purchase at auction, make sure you talk to the auctioneer, who will give you a condition report and background details. We want our auction buyers to be 100 per cent happy with their purchase once they have brought it home.
What do you personally collect and why?
I am currently assembling a collection of tableware to decorate and use at my dinner table, as I love to have visitors to my house. Recently, I bought a 1930s dinner service made by Copeland and sold through the famous London shop Thomas Goode & Co. I’m also collecting silver plate flatware, pairs of candelabras, early 19th century etched and cut wine glasses and rummers, silver condiments and other table centrepieces.
What would you buy if money were no object?
Castletown House in Celbridge, Co Kildare. I visit it at every opportunity and I enjoy the cultural activities they regularly run there. I love walking up the magnificent staircase to the Long Gallery with its three Murano Venetian coloured glass chandeliers. And viewing Lady Louisa’s Print Room is always a joy.
What’s your favourite work of art?
The vast and theatrical Daniel Maclise painting The Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife (1854) in the National Gallery of Ireland. I love it for both its high drama and historical significance and I never tire of hearing the interpretations given about its content. I look forward to it being back on public display once its conservation is completed.
In conversation with Michael Parsons