WB Yeats’s signature glasses sell for €10,000 at auction

Poet’s pinch-nose spectacles fetch price over 16 times the top estimate in Kilkenny

W.B. Yeats wearing his signature glasses.

A pair of glasses once owned by poet W.B Yeats sold at auction in Co Kilkenny on Tuesday for €10,000 – over 16 times the top estimate of €600.

The ‘pince-nez’ (a French term meaning ‘pinch-nose’ for glasses with no arms that are held in place by pinching the bridge of the nose) were a trademark accessory of Yeats who was famously photographed wearing a pair.

The glasses, which the auctioneer said had “a few minor scratches”, were among hundreds of items in a sale at Fonsie Mealy Auctioneers described as “the final chapter” in the disposal of the ‘Yeats Family Collection’ – art , antiques and collectibles inherited by the adult grandchildren of W.B Yeats.

Many of the more valuable items had already been auctioned in September at Sotheby’s in London where the poet’s writing desk sold for £187,500 (€214,000) to an unnamed Irish buyer.


At Tuesday’s auction, which lasted a marathon nine hours, bidders in the saleroom faced strong competition from online and telephone bidders.

The top art lot, described as “The Original Mosada Portrait” by John Butler Yeats sold for €21,000 – three-and-half times the top estimate of €6,000. The pen-and-ink portrait of his son W.B. Yeats, is dated 1886, and was reproduced with the narrative poem, ‘Mosada’ in the poet’s first publication.

A pocket sketch book from W.B Yeats containing some 50 pages with drawings and several passages of writing sold for €17,000 – over three times the top estimate . An Edwardian silver inkwell used by the poet made €2,900 – against a top estimate of € 800.

A briefcase – showing signs of wear and tear – that was owned by the poet and inherited by his son the late Senator Michael Yeats sold for €3,400.

The most intriguing item was an ‘Order of the Golden Dawn’ ceremonial robe - that sold for €1,500. The hooded robe of dark green silk edged in white, and lined in white silk, was described as “a very unusual item, possibly unique”. It may relate to the internal rituals of the ‘Order of the Golden Dawn’ which W.B. Yeats and his future wife Georgie Hyde-Lees joined in London in the late 19th century. The ‘Order of the Golden Dawn’ was devoted to studying magic, witchcraft and associated paranormal activities.

Even very humdrum lots found buyers. Lot 284, catalogued as “a bag of varied children’s clothing” sold for €40 while Lot 288, a mixed bag of clothing that included a pink silk evening gown and matching jacket, a black and gold evening coat with fur collar and cuffs and two dark fox fur stoles sold for €240.

Michael Parsons

Michael Parsons

Michael Parsons is a contributor to The Irish Times writing about fine art and antiques