Look to the past for presents today

Consider antiques, books, records or courses on restoration and painting as thoughtful alternatives to mass produced goods this festive season

It’s that time of year when many of us fret about choosing gifts for those we love. Gifting antique or vintage items is a greener alternative to mass produced goods, and the fact that they have a past and provenance means they are quite the treasure.

Presents of mind

For bibliophiles and history lovers, Fonsie Mealy’s Christmas Rare Books and Collectors Sale this Tuesday and Wednesday has some wonderful treats. A selection of books by Irish literary giants has been donated to the sale to raise funds for the Yeats Nobel Charity, which will celebrate the centenary of the Nobel Prize in Literature awarded to WB Yeats next year. These include limited editions, signed works, and first editions by Yeats, John Montague, Seamus Heaney and others.

Of interest is Jack B Yeats, A Broth of Boy, The Kishoge Papers, a first edition with childhood drawings and signatures by Jack Butler Yeats and Fred Pollexfen, who appears to be the original owner of the book (€1,000-€1,500).


The centenary of the publication of James Joyce Ulysses is marked by a four-page letter from Joyce to Thomas Pugh regarding the first illustrated edition of Ulysses (€6,000-€8,000). A copy of that illustrated edition is also included in the sale. Estimated at €5,000-€7,000, it is signed by both Joyce and Henri Matisse, who was responsible for the illustrations. A first edition of Ulysses, one of the large paper copies, is also listed at €15,000-€25,000.

Marking the centenary of the Irish State, some interesting items regarding Michael Collins include his personal seal (€2,000-€3,000) and his typed accounts with annotations for his London Envoy, his euphemism for the Treaty negotiations (€3,000-€5,000), and even the Big Fella’s Shillelagh features at €3,000-€4,000.

Along with GAA memorabilia and ephemera relating to the Abbey Theatre, if you’re old enough to remember what records are there’s some signed album covers including an important collection of signed and framed covers for each Beatle members’ solo album including Wings, signed by Paul and Linda McCartney (€4,000-€5,000). fonsiemealy.ie

De Búrca Rare Books in Blackrock has a first edition of Johnny Cash, Man in Black, which is signed by the singer on the title page (€625), and a well-kept copy of A Christmas Carol, In Prose, Being a Ghost Story of Christmas by Charles Dickens (€750).

Those with a love of travel, exploration and the sea will appreciate Sir Ernest Shackleton’s South. The Story of Shackleton’s Last Expedition 1914-1917, which has a coloured frontispiece, 88 photographic plates and a large folding map of The Voyage of the Endurance, from 1919 (€1,350). deburcararebooks.com

Gifts of knowledge

George Williams of the eponymous Meath-based antiques company, specialising in 18th and 19th century Irish and English furniture, offers online and onsite courses, along with his full restoration service. A one-day Antique Furniture Restoration course is a good starting point for anyone who is interested in restoring their own antiques, and shows how to identify timber, understand finishes and stains and how to treat woodworm, along with learning minor repair jobs. At €150 it includes lunch and a garden tour.

His successful Antique Chair course runs online over several weeks and takes participants on the journey from the Queen Anne period up to the Victorian era (€295). He also has free webinars – the first is on December 14th on how to clean period furniture – which goes hand in hand with the beautifully packaged handmade restoration and cleaning products he has developed. The Wax Works €45, and the Complete Restoration Kit at €85, include delivery in Ireland. georgian-antiques.com

In Ireland’s ancient east the Artform School of Art located in the coastal village of Dunmore East offers a range of studio-based and “plein air” residential art courses for all levels in a variety of styles and media, Hosted by some of Ireland’s well known artists, residential courses start at €250. It’s best to purchase a gift voucher so the recipient can choose the course. artform.ie

Some unusual offerings from Roger Grimes Antiques in Newport, Co Mayo, whose shop will close before Christmas, include a rare gold thimble from 1911 (€250), and a black coral heart with 15ct gold fastenings, which can hang on a chain. Black became fashionable on the death of Prince Albert in 1861 aged 42, when it devastated Queen Victoria so much she wore black for the remainder of her life (€425). antiquesandbooks.com

Don’t forget Francis Street in Dublin for a ramble into some of the most interesting shops in the capital. O’Reilly’s forthcoming auction this Wednesday has a great selection of diamonds, including an unmounted 5.01ct whopper of a diamond (€120,000-€140,000), in case you feel like popping the question this festive season. It also has a very unusual Roman carnelian and gold ring, which would have been worn by someone very important almost 2,000 years ago (€1,000-€1,500). iada.ie, oreillysfineart.com

Elizabeth Birdthistle

Elizabeth Birdthistle

Elizabeth Birdthistle, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about property, fine arts, antiques and collectables