WB Yeats’s trademark glasses for sale at €500-€600

Yet more items are to be auctioned as the family reaps a multi-million euro windfall

The Yeats family collection – art, antiques, letters and various collectibles associated with Ireland’s best-known 20th-century cultural family – is the gift that keeps on giving for both the family and auctioneers.

Following the major sale in Sotheby's in London in September, Fonsie Mealy Auctioneers will offer "a further and very significant tranche of items from the Yeats family" in its auction on Tuesday (November 14th) with a promise that this is "the final chapter".

In the past 24 months alone, the Yeats family – the three surviving grandchildren of the poet WB Yeats – has raised over €6 million from selling family heirlooms that had been amassed in their former family home in Dalkey, Co Dublin.

The London auction realised £2 million (€2.2 million) and, separately, the Minister for Culture, Heather Humphreys, recently revealed that "over the past two years the State has acquired material from the Yeats family collection amounting to a value of over €4m through direct purchase and donation using the tax relief system provided for under Section 1003 of the Taxes Consolidation Act."


But, there’s more to come – and this golden goose has yet more feathers to be plucked. At least €500,000 may be raised in private sales from a few of the big-ticket items that failed to sell at Sotheby’s; the State is planning to acquire yet more family letters for approximately €1 million; and now Fonsie Mealy Auctioneers’ catalogue has approximately 300 lots from the Yeats family Collection with a combined pre-sale top estimate of approximately €150,000. They’re even selling some of the clothes off the backs of various members of the Yeats clan.

Lot 284 is “a bag of varied children’s clothing, male and female c. 1935-1950, coats, jackets, trousers, jumpers, etc”. A mere snip at €100-€150? And Lot 288 is a mixed bag, estimated at €220-€350, that includes 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.

But there are plenty of heavyweight items. Although not the most expensive in the sale, the Lot likely to attract most interest is 632, a pair of WB Yeats's glasses estimated at €500-€600. "See the world through a poet's eyes" says auctioneer George F Mealy although the glasses do have "a few minor scratches". They're "pince-nez" style – the French term (literally meaning "pinch-nose") for a glasses with no arms that are held in place by pinching the bridge of the nose – and a trademark accessory of WB Yeats [see pics of the glasses of Yeats wearing an identical pair].

But, typical of the world of collecting, you wait ages for a pair of Yeats family spectacles to come along and then up pops Lot 697, “Cottie’s Glasses” owned by artist Jack B Yeats’s wife, Cottie, in the original alligator skin case, inscribed with her monogram “MCY” (Mary Cottenham Yeats), the case with gilt stamp of Dixon & Hempenstall, Dublin (€300-€400).

Vintage luggage – and especially examples with good provenance – has become very collectible, so there’s likely to be interest in Lot 406, two large leather travel cases, made by “Revelation” (an English maker), with “Yeats” stamped on each (€400-€600).

Among the art, Lot 592 is (yet another) Self-Portrait by John Butler Yeats (the poet's father), an oil-on-canvas measuring 29" x 24", half length, palette in hand, painted before he went to America, possibly circa 1901 (€10,000-€15,000).

Lot 631 is described as "The Original Mosada Portrait" by John Butler Yeats (€4,000-€6,000). This is a pen-and-ink portrait of his son WB Yeats, dated 1886, which was reproduced with the narrative poem, Mosada in the poet's first publication. The poem, illustrated with this image was published in an edition of probably 100 copies which is very rare.

Lot 630 is (yet another) pocket sketch book from WB Yeats – this one containing some 50 pages with some drawings and several passages of writing including what appears to be a draft of a poem entitled The Field Mouse with these lines: "The field mouse running yonder has reared up / No pyramid of custom or of laws / to break her heart / No, she is angry sometimes and she loves / The shadow of the wheat sheaves, that is all /." Not the poet's finest hour, to put it mildly. The estimate is €3,000-€5,000. Budding poets might find inspiration in Lot 633, WB Yeats's Edwardian silver inkwell (€600-€800). [see pic]

Lot 634, is the poet’s briefcase with the stencilled initials WBY in white. A further initial, M has been added before the W suggesting that it was also used by his son Michael (€600- €800). [see pic]

Lot 644 is an "Order of the Golden Dawn" ceremonial robe (€600-€800) [see pic]. The hooded robe of dark green silk edged in white, and lined in white silk, is described as "a very unusual item, possibly unique", which may relate to the internal rituals of the "Order of the Golden Dawn" which WB Yeats and his future wife Georgie Hyde-Lees joined in London but, according to the auctioneers "it is difficult to confirm this view, as members of the Order were forbidden to communicate its secrets to outsiders".

The “Order of the Golden Dawn” was, essentially, a motley crew of fruitcakes and swivel-eyed loons devoted to studying magic, witchcraft and associated paranormal activities. It was established in late 19th-century England and lasted until the 1930s.

Viewing for the auction begins this morning, Saturday, November 11th, at Fonsie Mealy Auctioneers, The Old Cinema, Chatsworth Street, Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny, where the auction takes place on Tuesday, November 14th. For an online catalogue and to register for online bidding see fonsiemealy.ie