Guinness heirlooms from a lion to a 1928 Rolls Royce go under the hammer in the UK

Sworders is selling treasures on behalf of the earl of Iveagh that were once part of the Farmleigh Estate

Everything from a convertible Bentley to a full-scale taxidermy of a lion will be up for sale at a forthcoming auction of more than 400 Guinness family heirlooms.

Sworders, the UK auction house has been tasked with the sale of diverse items from the family’s English and Irish homes, and the items will go under the hammer on the Suffolk estate of Arthur Edward Guinness, fourth Earl of Iveagh at Elveden Hall on September 14th.

Many of the lots on the auction house website are of Irish origin – indicated with a shamrock – and are from the earls’ Irish estate at Farmleigh, which was once owned by the current earl’s great-great grandparents Edward Cecil and Adelaide Guinness. Also featured are treasures from Elveden Estate itself, and the Guinness family’s residence at Hyde Park Corner in London.

The current earl sold Farmleigh to the Irish State in 1999 for €29.2 million. It was subsequently refurbished, to the tune of €23 million, and now operates as the official State guest house. When Farmleigh was sold, the family brought much of the furniture from Ireland to Suffolk, as the intention was to live in the hall at Elveden.


While the earl and his family now live on the Elveden Estate, the main hall – which has 40 bedrooms and is deemed too large for the family – has been used as a location for films including Stanley Kubrick’s erotic drama Eyes Wide Shut, starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, along with the television miniseries Catherine the Great.

Highlights of the sale include some stunning gilded mirrors from Farmleigh, such as an impressive Irish George III piece in the manner of Thomas Chippendale from 1760, with fine decorative borders. Having once hung in the entrance hall at Farmleigh, the piece, stretching to more than two metres in height, is expected to fetch between £20,000-£30,000 (€23,260-€34.890).

Another top lot is a Ziegler Sultanabad pattern wool carpet (lot 156, £20,000-£30,000 (€23,260-€34,890)). The UK-based German company Ziegler began making high-quality carpets in Iran, until political unrest moved production to Afghanistan and Pakistan. When the Elveden Estate was purchased from Maharajah Duleep Singh in 1893 by the first Earl of Iveagh, the sale included 23 of these carpets – many of which were later sold off in 1984. Ziegler carpets are characterised by a particular design pattern in soft, muted tones, which are the result of vegetable-based dyes.

Also from the Irish collection is a nine-feet Model D Steinway concert grand piano, considered to be the gold standard of keyboard instruments. The piece, which dates from 1901, with the serial number 100900, and is cased in rosewood, is expected to fetch £10,000-£15,000 (€11,632-€17,442). From the ballroom at Farmleigh is an Adam revival brass and steel serpentine fire grate with a lovely matching serpentine fender, which would have warmed the cockles of residents and visiting guests to the Georgian pile in the Phoenix Park (lot 49, £800-£1,200/€930-€1,200).

Sales such as these always have eclectic items, and the Elveden sale does not disappoint. A selection of classic cars includes a 2011 Bentley Continental GTC convertible (lot 439, £40,000-£45,000/€46,516-€52,334), and a fabulous 1928 Rolls-Royce Phantom, which has Shooting Brake coachwork, and was used to ferry guests and dignitaries around estate (lot 441, £35,000-£45,000/€40,701-€52,334).

The selection of taxidermy may raise some eyebrows, especially the full-sized lion that met his maker in Botswana (lot 356, £1,000-£1,500/€1,116-€1,744). But an art deco cocktail cabinet in walnut – which would benefit from a good polish – is great value at the listed price of £200-£300 (€232-€348), as are some lots of chairs and occasional furniture.

Red velvet and ermine coronation robes from the early 20th century, worn by the Earls of Iveagh to the coronations of Edward VII, George V, George VI and Elizabeth II also feature at £3,000-£5,000 (€3,498-€5,812), and a large iron mantrap – not of the humane sort – but one that if you got caught in you’d be lucky to keep your leg, serves as a reminder of how poachers were once viewed by landlords of large estates.

There are a good number of lots at reasonable prices, but, given the provenance, may well sell far beyond their estimates. It is worth noting that the listed buyers’ premium is 30 per cent, which includes a 5 per cent VAT rate. Because of Brexit, the rules for Ireland have changed, and the 5 per cent rate is dropped and is now replaced with a 13.5 per cent customs VAT rate, which is applied to the total cost – including shipping, insurance and premiums. As aggregate costs can now reach up to 45 per cent (for artworks) it is worth taking this into consideration when bidding on UK sales.

Cork sale

Hegarty’s of Bandon will hold a live auction on Tuesday 22nd, and one of the highlights, besides a rather nice 4.4ct Ceylon sapphire and diamond ring (€6,500-€8,500), is a lovely walnut serpentine-shaped 19th-century dressing/work table with fantastic workmanship (€1,000-€1,500).,

Elizabeth Birdthistle

Elizabeth Birdthistle

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