GOOD house contents sales, now a rarity in Britain, still crop up in Ireland and although the latest was a reversal of the usual reason for such events – the owners were actually moving back into the house rather than leaving it – Lissadell in Co. Sligo followed the familiar pattern of widespread general interest in pieces from ‘the big house’ and enthusiasm among people wishing to buy fresh-to-
Lissadell, residence of the Gore-Booth family since 1830, also had the lure of being steeped in history with strong links to Irish painting, having been home to Eva and Constance Gore-Booth who helped found the United Irish Arts Club. W.B. Yeats was a regular visitor to the house and often recalled Lissadell in his poetry.
Lissadell has been open to the public for many years while the owners, Sir Josslyn and Lady Gore-Booth lived in England. They are returning to their ancestral seat – hence the “spring clean” and sale of duplicate and unneeded pieces.
As is the pattern in Ireland, this mammoth two-day sale also included, a small selection of items from other sources and actually it was one of these items which topped the proceedings.
A convent in Cork, which had been recently sold, was the source of a 19th century Italian school micromosaic after Raphael of The Nativity, with the Adoration of the Shepherds.
Catalogued as “very fine” and housed in a later ebonised and carved oak arch top architectural frame which bore the coat-of-arms of a cardinal, the 161/2 by 23in (42 x 58.5cm) mosaic had been well cared for and was in “beautiful” condition. Bidders on seven phone lines, all from the UK, battled it out against a €6000-8000 estimate with the successful UK dealer taking it at a massive €130,000 (£85,530).
Among the “surplus to requirements” pieces from Lissadell were a selection of items from the nursery including a 3ft 10 by 3ft 1in (1.17m x 94cm) fine late 19th century doll’s house modelled as a three-storey Georgian residence.
“All the Lissadell pieces were in to sell which allowed us to give low estimates which would pull in a crowd,” said auctioneer George Mealy. The doll’s house, in good original condition was estimated at €600-800 but got away at €26,000 (£17,100) to an Irish private buyer underbid by an Irish doll museum.
The famously wealthy Irish private buyers were out in force at this sale and, as so often in recent years, outbid the trade time and again. One such private buyer beat the trade in the battle for a rare early 19th century Irish green lacquered harp from Lissadell. Made by John Egan of 30 Dawson St. Dublin, the 2ft 10in (89cm) high, cased harp was decorated with scrolling shamrocks.
The modest €800-1200 estimate combined with the rarity of the piece attracted lots of interest with the hammer falling at €11,000 (£7240).
Again following a familiar pattern at house contents sales, crested armorial silver was selling incredibly well.
For anyone wanting an item with the Lissadell provenance, the silver, all of which bore the Gore-Booth coat-of-arms, was the stuff to buy. “Buyers, especially American buyers, go mad for crested silver; they just love it,” said Mr Mealy.
Best of the silver was an eight-piece épergne by J. Deakin, Sheffield, 1906, comprising a large basket bowl chased and pierced with flowers and scrolls on a conforming hollow stand with four shaped arms with sweetmeat baskets. The 87oz piece was in “mint” condition and took what Mr Mealy felt to be a “rather surprising” €18,000 (£11,840) from an Irish private bidder.
Other Lissadell silver high points included a George III two-handled serving tray by Hannam & Crouch of London which brought €6000 (£3950) from an American client, and an oval Georgian swing-handle cake basket with gadroon edge which saw €3000 (£1970).
The convent that yielded the top selling micromosaic also provided an old tusk-shaped piece of scrimshaw. These highly collectable marine items are often faked but the room clearly felt this 9in (23cm) example etched with the barque Fawn cruising off North Island in New Zealand among numerous boats and figures, was authentic. It went to a UK collector at €11,000 (£7240).
All the furniture in Lissadell was commissioned by the Gore-Booth family from Dublin cabinetmakers Williams & Gibton of 30 Stafford Street and each piece bore the maker’s stamp. Like the crested silver, the stamped furniture also attracted lots of interest from those keen to purchase a piece with a sound Gore-Booth provenance.
The best of the Lissadell furniture, which was all in “fair” condition after years of wear, was an unusual pair of small William IV period rosewood chaise longues.
With the Williams & Gibton stamp along with a number, the pair each had a chair-back end and one open arm. With top hopes of €2500 they went to an Irish private at €5400 (£3550).
May 21-22. Number of lots: 1415
Number of lots sold: 1372
Sale total: €1.5m (£987,000)
Buyer’s premium: 15 per cent
Exchange rate: £1 = €1.52
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