U2 bellydancer’s kit and Napoleon’s hair: the bizarre items in a Dublin auction

The flotsam and jetsam of history go on sale next Saturday at the Eclectic Collector auction


 “The Eclectic Collector” auction is a pretty an apt title for a sale of the bizarre mix of lots which are collectible and sometimes valuable because they shed light on aspects of social, cultural or economic history and, because people collect the most unusual, unlikely and unexpected things.

Here’s a selection of what's on offer at Whyte’s in Dublin on Saturday, February 3rd:

Napoleon Bonaparte’s hair

A cutting of Napoleon Bonaparte’s hair is among the weird items at Whyte’s upcoming auction
A cutting of Napoleon Bonaparte’s hair has an estimate of €150-€250

Only the most ardent Francophile – or a barber looking for a “conversation piece” to hang on the wall – is likely to be interested in Lot 21: “a cutting of Napoleon Bonaparte’s hair”. It’s just a fragment of a strand of hair – apparently one of several – taken from a lock of hair when the exiled French leader had his final haircut on the island of St Helena where he died in 1821 (estimate €150-€250).

Stolen sheep complaint
A Carlow farmer’s complaint about a stolen sheep, made to a justice of the peace in 1848, is Lot 35 and estimated at €100-€150. The signed statement records that Michael Barry of Tombay, Rathvilly, Carlow, reported that “a hogget sheep value one pound sterling was feloniously stolen from off his father’s lands at Tombay”. But why the interest? Well, the Barry family later moved to Dublin and Michael’s grandson, Kevin Barry, became a household name when, in 1920 and aged just 18, he was executed in Mountjoy Prison for his role in an Irish Volunteers’ attack that killed three British soldiers.

Dún Laoghaire lifeboat medal for gallantry

A “Royal National Lifeboat Institution” silver medal awarded in 1881 to Henry Williams, Coxswain, Kingstown [now Dún Laoghaire] Lifeboat in recognition of a “long and gallant service” is Lot 64, and is estimated at €300-€500. The silver medal, still in its original fitted case, was supplied by Allstons & Hallam, Goldsmiths, London. Fourteen years after receiving this medal, Williams and his son Alexander (who had succeeded him as coxswain) both lost their lives during the attempted rescue of the crew of the SS Palme on Christmas Eve 1895. Whyte’s said the disaster is remembered each year in a ceremony, held on the East Pier in Dún Laoghaire on December 24th.

Michael Collins and Éamon de Valera autographs

The two most influential men in modern Irish history – Michael Collins and Éamon de Valera were once close allies but fell out spectacularly. Lot 148 is a rare memento of happier times – their autograph signatures on the same page of a menu for an event which included: “Toasts – Ireland One and Indivisible – Our Guests – Irish Exiles”. It’s signed on the back by de Valera and Collins (in Irish as Miceál Ó Coileáin) and the rarity of having both signatures together, despite the card’s poor condition, explains the high estimate (€800-€1,200).

Steward’s cloth armband from Eucharistic Congress

The Eucharistic Congress in Ireland in June 1932 was held on the 10th anniversary of independence and saw the Irish Free State undertake its first major international event. De Valera had taken over as president of the council [the office now known as An Taoiseach) from WT Cosgrave a few months earlier. Huge numbers of pilgrims from at home and abroad attended a Mass in the Phoenix Park where tenor John McCormack sang and afterwards half a million people gathered on O’Connell Street for a blessing by the pope’s envoy. A memento of the occasion, Lot 156, described as rare, is a knitted “steward’s cloth armband in Papal colours with green-on-white badge attached” (€100-€150).

U2 bellydancer costume

A radically different memento from an utterly changed Ireland of 60 years later is Lot 537, a stage-worn bellydancer costume worn by Yasmina Bouhebbal on rock band U2’s 1993 Zoo TV Tour, for the song Mysterious Ways, in Nantes, Frankfurt and Munich. (€300-€500).

Rare €500 note

The auction has a section devoted to collectible coins and banknotes and, surprisingly, alongside the 20th century “Ploughman” and “Lady Lavery” examples, is Lot 417, a €500 note, issued by the European Central Bank (ECB) in 2002, and estimated at €1,000-€1,200 – over double its face value. Why? Whyte’s said this is a note from “the only issue of this denomination for Ireland” when the new currency was launched in 2002 – 16 years ago. Because the €500 note is believed to be widely used by criminals for money-laundering, the ECB has announced that it will cease issuing the note from the end of 2018 but it “remains legal tender and will always retain its value and can be exchanged at the national central banks of the Eurosystem for an unlimited period of time”.

Sporting memorabilia
Among the sporting items in the auction, Lot 504 is a medal won by a member of the Irish boxing team that travelled to Nazi Germany for an international tournament in December 1937. It’s believed that the medal was given to the flyweight Paddy “The Great” Connolly who fought the German champion Werner Priess in Hamburg on December 10th and was beaten on points. The medal, made by Stempel-Muller, Bremen, depicts two boxers above an eagle and swastika (€500-€700).

Ginger the cockfighting bird

Cockfighting – a “sport” of a very different kind – is represented in Lot 473: a framed colour photograph, undated but probably 1960s, of “Ginger, three times all-Ireland heavyweight champion cock, retired undefeated, drinking a pint of Guinness with Denis Hyland, Laois”. Priceless, surely, but estimated at €100-€150.

  • Whyte’s Auction, The Eclectic Collector is on Saturday, February 3rd, in the Freemasons’ Hall, Molesworth Street, Dublin 2 and goes on public view in advance at Whyte’s gallery, 38 Molesworth Street on Wednesday, January 31st. www.whytes.ie
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