John Weldon Auctioneers in Cow's Lane, Temple Bar, Dublin holds monthly auctions of antique and modern jewellery, silver and gold coins. His family has been in the jewellery business for more than 125 years at Weldon's of Clarendon Street which is run by his father, Jimmy.
What’s your background?
I grew up in south Dublin, the eldest boy in a family of six children. I went to the local national school and community college. I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I was at school but went to college in the UK and studied property management.
When I returned to Dublin I got a job with O’Reilly’s auctioneers [in Francis Street]. I was with them for five years and then decided that I could do this for myself. I held my first auction in Dublin on September 11th, 2001 at 2pm – the same day and time that the dreadful events in New York happened. We were the new kids on the block, but over the past 15 years I feel we have carved out our niche in the market place. On Tuesday (September 13th) we will hold our 200th auction. My father told me back in 2001, “You are only as good as your next auction, so make it the best you can.” This is something we strive for each month.
It’s a close-knit family business which I set up with my sister Joan and I couldn’t have done it without her. We had great help and assistance from our mother, Gail. And our office manager, Helen Bouchier-Hayes, is always on hand to assist customers. I spend a lot of time dealing with clients and providing valuations – including for solicitors and executors. Some days I feel part of my job is also as a counsellor, especially when we have a client who is selling items they have received through a bereavement or the break-up of a relationship. Also, sometimes, people have misguided expectations of what an item is worth and need to be told that despite the “X” amount paid for it – they aren’t going to get that back.
The part of the job I enjoy most is when people bring in goods to be valued. I find myself getting most excited when they arrive in with Lidl or Dunnes stores bags as usually these yield items of more interest, than when they arrive in with a BT or more upmarket bag.
I remember doing a valuation where a solicitor dropped in three suitcases of silver. While going through the second suitcase, I found a will detailing all the contents and which family member was to get what. I called the solicitor and he told me that that will had been superseded which was such a relief after a few moments of panic.
Setting up my own business. Running any business is hard work. Even when I close the door to go home, I still think about ways to improve and develop it. We started with a bank loan of €30,000 in a brand new street in the centre of Dublin. For the first three years, we didn't take wages to speak of, but now, in year 15, we have developed a strong business. Among the memorable lots I have sold at auction, I recall, back in 2003, a collection of invoices and workbooks of an Irish silversmith, Matthew Staunton (1880-1920). The National Museum of Ireland bought them for € 2,000 and now, I guess, they are priceless.
What advice would you give to collectors / investors?
Buy diamonds - but remember the four Cs; Carat, Colour, Clarity and Cut. Make sure they are above 0.70cts each; white in colour above H or I colour; clarity above SI1; and, choose round-shaped diamonds.
If buying silver, look for pieces made in Cork and Limerick and Galway – but I haven’t seen a good piece of Galway silver in many years. Early Irish silver is rare, for every one Irish silver teapot there are 20 English ones. Condition is key, the hallmarks need to be good and clear. Eighteenth-century Irish silver should be, in general, plain. During the Victorian era many of these 18th-century pieces were refashioned and had “chasing” decoration applied to conform with the fashion of the day. This can have a negative impact on the value.
Buy gold, not the paper shares, but the real thing. At the moment you can pick up beautiful pieces of antique jewellery for close to gold’s melting value. South African Krugerrands – coins made from 1 oz of pure gold – sell for around €1,000 each. When we started, back in 2001, they were making about 350 punts. So over the years they have done well.
What do you personally collect and why?
I collect Irish silverware, I’m particularly fond of early Irish flatware – particularly Irish silver spoons from the early 1700s. I buy them from dealers and at auction. It’s hard to judge them on websites, so be extra careful when buying online. If a piece is crested or bears a coat of arms, that adds to its history.
What would you buy if money were no object?
An early Irish silver chocolate pot (the ones with the side handle); I just love the shape of them. I like also Irish silver freedom boxes; these were given to people along with their freedom papers when they were awarded the freedom of a particular city or town.
I have also seen a few Irish gold freedom boxes which can be stunning. I’d also buy my wife a diamond-and-sapphire pendant. The sapphire would have to natural (not heat-treated), and a deep royal blue colour, surrounded by at least 15cts of diamond. I’d love to have a 1943 Irish Florin (two shilling coin). It’s reckoned there are fewer than 50 of these and they sell from € 8,000 upwards.
What’s your favourite artwork and why?
The Fabergé Imperial Eggs. [Jewelled eggs, made in the style of Easter Eggs, for the Tsars of Russia by the imperial goldsmith Peter Carl Fabergé, between 1885 and the Russian Revolution in 1917. Of the 51 eggs made, an estimated 43 have survived]. I saw some exhibited in a museum in Brussels and was bowled over by the quality of the workmanship.
In conversation with Michael Parsons