New to auction: From rare Celtic Revival books to a Fabergé frog and an orange-faced Rolex

De Búrca Rare Books has treasures for sale on the secondary market, including books by Yeats once owned by the poet Siegfried Sassoon and the actor John Mills

The latest catalogue from De Búrca Rare Books in Blackrock has some “exceedingly rare” titles relating to Celtic Revival material. Also referred to as the Celtic Twilight, it was a variety of movements in the 19th and 20th centuries that saw a renewed interest in Celtic culture. Anti-colonial sentiment coupled with historical discoveries ignited an Irish Renaissance, and the arts, language, as well as the written words of W B Yeats, Lady Gregory, AE (George Russell), Edward Martyn and Edward Plunkett, helped redefine what is was to be both Irish and Celtic.

Its aim was to embrace and revitalise Ireland’s artistic past, helping to give its citizens a sense of identity and self-worth.

“The Celtic Revival was so important to Irish literature, and it’s also a period that I love. We hope that we have every author in the section now covered,” says Will de Búrca of the latest acquisitions in his Blackrock bookshop. The piece de resistance is The Wind Among the Reeds by Yeats, listed at €3,850. “This has hand-tooled gilt binding, and normally if you find this book, both back and front are completely faded as it was done by hand. To find it in perfect condition makes it really unique. Eamonn [de Búrca], who has been at this for 40 years, says it’s the best copy he’s ever come across.”

If you needed any proof that provenance plays a strong part in the secondary market, some books in the catalogue have an increased value because of past owners.


Yeats’s Plays for an Irish Theatre (€1,500), a first edition described as “an excellent association copy”, is from the library of English war poet and soldier Siegfried Sassoon. “What’s interesting about this is Sassoon may have been a fan of Yeats, but as he [Yeats] was never sympathetic to the war – it may not have been the other way round.” It bears Sassoon’s signature in pencil and his monogram on the front pastedown. Actor John Mills’s copy of The Secret Rose by Yeats has an interesting armorial bookplate and is rare due to its exceptional condition (€1,750).

Where things become interesting is the bookplate in some of the titles from the library of John Quinn, an Irish American New York attorney. Quinn, who supported the Irish nationalist cause, fought to overturn censorship laws in the United States that restricted modern literature and art from entering the country. After meeting Yeats, he became a main supporter of the Abbey Theatre and in the early 1920s represented Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap over their publication in The Little Review of portions of James Joyce’s Ulysses, which the United States postal service deemed so obscene it reportedly burned 500 copies of it.

Quinn had engaged Jack B Yeats to design his bookplate. Back then, if you had a decent library you engaged a good artist to design a bookplate – also called ex-libris – which you then pasted into all books in your collection. Two books from Quinn’s library, The Kiltartan History Book by Lady Gregory (€850) and Two Plays by Lennox Robinson (€850), both first editions, have the bookplate designed by Jack B Yeats, and De Búrca estimates that this adds about 40 per cent to their value.

More rarities can be found in Hegarty’s Summer Sale, which will take place in live on July 25th at its Bandon saleroom. It lists a Fabergé frog, which hails from Carl Fabergé’s love of Japanese netsukes; apparently he kept 500 animal models in his flat. With gem-set eyes and carved in stone to match the animal’s natural colour, it is boxed and numbered. It’s being sold by a gentleman with German connections in his 70s, whose mother owned the whimsical piece, which the auctioneer estimates dates from early to mid-20th century. It has no reserve and is expected to fetch between €1,000 and €2,000.

Along with a good-quality Irish mahogany sideboard (lot 13, €250-€450) the eclectic catalogue lists a rare 18ct rose gold ladies’ Rolex wristwatch with a rare orange dial insert with diamonds, which is expected to sell for between €15,000 and €20,000.

Fonsie Mealy’s Chatsworth Summer Fine Art Sale, which will take place over three days from August 1st to 3rd at its saleroom in Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny, has 1,350 lots in “an important, diverse and eclectic sale”. Top of the bill, with a €10,000-€15,000 estimate, is After James Malton, “a picturesque and descriptive view of the city of Dublin”. From 1791, they are a full series of 24 hand-coloured engraved plates, which is a rare enough set. Next up is a “unique single-owner collection of rare Irish bog oak artefacts”. Listed at €8,000-€12,000, it includes super pieces by Cornelius Goggin, the best-known 19th-century Irish bog oak craftsman.

Elizabeth Birdthistle

Elizabeth Birdthistle

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