Solid gold key to Clerys worth €12,000 comes to light

Key made in 1922 to mark reopening of landmark store on Dublin’s O’Connell Street

A solid gold key to Clerys – the department store in Dublin that closed earlier this year – has come to light and been valued at €12,000.

The ceremonial key was made in 1922 to mark the reopening of the landmark shop in O’Connell Street – years after it had been destroyed in the 1916 Rising.

Clerys closed suddenly on June 12th when the operating company went into liquidation and more than 400 jobs were lost. It has emerged that the contents of the Clerys little-known collection of historical memorabilia have been dispersed and sold.

‘Clerys museum’

Dublin antiques dealer


Jimmy Weldon

has bought – from an unnamed source – some of the items from “Clerys museum” including the key and an accounts ledger which documents the disastrous impact of what it calls the “Rebellion” on Clerys company accounts in 1916.

Mr Weldon, who sells antique silver, gold and jewellery at his shop in Clarendon Street, is planning to resell both items. “It was a joy to find items with links to the events of 1916 and the history of the greatest Irish retailer,” he said.

He has provisionally valued the key at “about €12,000” and the accounts ledger at €4,000-€5,000. The key was used during a ceremony on August 9th, 1922, to mark the formal reopening of Clerys.

The original shop on O’Connell (then Sackville) Street was destroyed in 1916. Clerys continued to trade from premises in Lower Abbey Street and hired building contractors Messrs McLaughlin & Harvey Ltd (of Dartmouth Road) to build a new shop in O’Connell Street on a different site.

Architects Messrs Ashlin & Coleman based the design on Selfridges’s London department store on Oxford Street. The new Clerys employed a live orchestra in the afternoons to serenade shoppers.

The gold key – weighing two ounces, decorated with Celtic motifs and made by renowned goldsmith Langley Arthur West of Fitzwilliam Square – was presented at the opening ceremony to “Mrs Chris. Murphy” – the wife of Christopher J Murphy, a director of Clerys in 1922.

A further inscription records the names of Sir Henry McLaughlin, chairman; Anthony Campbell, director of the building contractors; the architects, and the foreman of works, Charles Jellett.

Profit and loss

The 500-page ledger records details of Clerys profit and loss for each year between 1883 and 1923 including details about company expenditure ranging from salaries to stabling for the horses who drew the shop’s delivery vans. An initial analysis of the accounts shows, inevitably, a huge drop in turnover for the months following the Rising but by 1919 business and profits had rebounded.

Mr Weldon said he would put both the key and the ledger on public display for the first time at an Antiques Fair at the RDS in Ballsbridge later this month where he is hoping to negotiate their sale.

Michael Parsons

Michael Parsons

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