Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Tuesday's Tips: Seeking Irish History in an Auction House

For the second time I journeyed down the road of seeking Irish history in an auction house.  In December of 2010 I wrote about my first experience with the auction process.  Although participating in an auction of historical memorabilia is not for the faint of heart, I recommend it if you are interested in owning a 'piece' of history, or even if you are just interested in the process and seeing what kinds of items are auctioned.

In this instance, once again I participated in an auction held by Whyte's Auction House in Dublin.  Since I had previously bid in their auction of History, Literature & Collectibles, they mailed me this catalogue in advance of the auction.

My wish list for this auction was a little longer, and since I had the hard copy catalogue, I was able to peruse it beforehand, and mark my maximum bid price next to lots* in which I was interested.  I set an overall budget before the auction, and decided that money planned for certain lots could be moved to other lots if I lost out on the bid.  For example, I was interested in a 'lot' of early 20th century Irish newspaper photographs, but the bidding got way out of my league very quickly, and so I reallocated the funds I had planned to spend on the photographs to another lot in which I was interested.

There were two items in particular at the top of my wish list:

1) Lot #290 - 1916 Thom's Dublin City and County Directory.

2) Lot #384 - 1930 Letter from the Active Service Unit Dublin Brigade Veterans.

My wish list included two other lots, in addition to the lot of newspaper photographs, one of 1916 postcards, and another of period photographs.  Very quickly it became clear that I would have no chance of winning these lots, and so I ceased to bid on them.

The last lot on my list was Lot #397 - 1798-1921: A collection of Irish Revolutionary period books.

With the reallocation of funds, as I mentioned, I won the bid for the 1916 Directory and the 1930 letter.  I had enough left in my budget to bid on the last lot on my list and I won that bid as well.

After making arrangements to have the items shipped to me I received them in late October of 2011.  The 1916 directory is extraordinary, as is the letter, which includes a complete listing of all members of the Dublin Active Service Unit, and the collection of books is outstanding.

Some heavy reading
The collection of books includes a very battered and fragile 1833 copy of Sir Jonah Barrington's The Rise and Fall of The Irish Nation.  The book includes what is probably one of the first 'Black Lists' ever in print in which Sir Barrington lists the names of those who sold out Ireland in voting for the Act of Union.  Clearly Barrington had a lot to get off his chest, and he wanted to make sure everyone who picked up the book knew it.

Click on the photograph of the book cover
to view the full title of the book.
I am so grateful for the opportunity to have these pieces in my collection.

Long story short, since this is a tips post, here are my original tips along with a couple of new ones:

1. Seek out reputable auction sites with good reviews, and attend live auctions if you are able, or attend online 'live', if that option is available.

2. Take a chance. Most auction houses have items priced for museum budgets, or for the wallets of the rich and famous, but many also have available some very reasonably priced pieces.

3. Create a wish list.  Take a look at the entire online catalog, and create a wish list of the items you would like to bid on. Create the list in order of preference, and be fully prepared to lose out on some of the items on your wish list when they go to higher bidders.  If a higher bidder wins the lot you have bid on, then just move down your list.

4. Set your budget limit and do not exceed it!  A live auction is very exciting and you can easily get caught up in that excitement, so know your limit, and stay within it.  You may be bidding against museums and individuals with very deep pockets, and although it is very disappointing to lose an item you may have had your heart set on, it's better than suffering buyer's remorse.

5. Invest in history.  You may come across something extraordinary which connects to your family, or at the very least to their country of origin.  In my own family history 1916 was a very significant year, so to have Thom's Directory for that year is a wonderful thing for which I am truly grateful.

Note: *'Lot' is the term used by auctioneers to refer to the number given to a piece that will be sold in auction.  A lot may consist of one item or a group of items.

Click on photographs to view larger versions.
Copyright©irisheyesjg2012. All Rights Reserved.


  1. Great article, thanks for the insight.

  2. Interesting idea. I've never thought about doing this. I like the big book. Have you found anyone connected to you in it?

  3. Hi Carol, and Hi Ashling,

    Thanks for your comments; they are greatly appreciated.

    Ashling, so far I have found a couple of relatives in the directory, but haven't yet gone all the way through it, so there may be more. Here's hoping :)



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