The beauty of buying time

Pic of Exterior of Newgrange
Newgrange – Our interest in timekeeping has changed little in 5000 years
This article was first published in the ‘Collector’s Corner’, Sunday Business Post, Feb 2000 under the title ‘Timely reminders’, and March 5th 2000, under the above title, ‘The beauty of buying time’

With the hullabaloo from the millennium celebrations and universal obsession with recording that moment now relegated to distant memory, it is worth looking at how our forefathers recorded the passage of time down the ages.

It is true to say the passage of previous milleniums were not celebrated with a glass of bubbly in one hand and a fine Rolex chronometer on the other. It is also true that time has held and intense fascination for humans from the moment they first walked out of the jungle.

The widespread interest in the coverage of the winter solstice at Newgrange aptly illustrates that little has changed in the space of 5,000 years.

The technology which was employed by our Irish ancestors is even more amazing now when placed in the context of the era.

Up until the Middle Ages the best that money could but extended to the lowly waterclock or sundial. Mechanical clocks as we know them were only invented in the late 13th century and they are among the most charming if not the most intriguing of antiques.

This is due principally to the major innovations introduced from the 17th century onwards. Their attraction lies in our ongoing appreciation of mechanical or, more so today, technological ingenuity.

But clocks and watches have immense decorative allure and many pocket watches and wristwatches are sought after more for their qualities of design than for the accuracy of their timekeeping.

Such pieces can be appreciated in the same way as a piece of furniture or even a painting.

Most types of clock, and there are many different varieties to suit every taste and budget, display not only the technical wizardry of the clockmaker but also that of the polisher, engraver, brass caster, dial painter and cabinetmaker.

Some variations on the theme include the longcase (commonly referred to as the grandfather clock), carriage, bracket, lantern, cartel, regulator and chronometer.

While the market has changed over the past number of years, with prices for good pieces by the recognised French and English makers at the top fetching huge sums, there are still bargains to be had for the discerning collector.

There is a wealth of knowledge out there for the enthusiast but it must be said that Ireland has a long and proud tradition in the craft, and perhaps it would be wiser to look closer to home first.

Going by recent prices in the auction rooms around the country, prices for longcase clocks can vary considerably.

They typically start from £450, depending on maker and quality, but can fetch up to £10,000.

Occasionally pieces of extraordinary quality appear for which there is and all too eager feeding frenzy, and prices are adjusted accordingly.

But, as always, there are bargains to be had, and at the lower end of the market, you could be starting your collection for as little as £50.

This article was first published in the ‘Collector’s Corner’, Sunday Business Post, Feb 2000 under the title ‘Timely reminders’, and March 5th 2000, under the above title ‘The beauty of buying time’

If you go down to the woods today.

A selection of Steiff Bears from the Vienna Teddy Bear Museum


This article was first published in Collectors Corner, Oct 1st, 2000 in the Sunday Business Post

In case you hadn’t noticed from the masthead, today is the first of October. This is of no major consequence except for the fact that from now until the end of the year, we can expect to be inundated with those annoying adverts announcing the countdown to Christmas.

Not to be outdone we have decided that if you can’t beat them, you can at least get your say in first.

With only a little over ten weeks to go until December 25, those much-loved gift items, teddy bears, are a seasonally appropriate topic.

There are few objects which provide a more intimate link with the past than an old teddy bear or a cloth doll.

In good condition these souvenirs of childhood can be of far more than sentimental value.

Teddy bears, more so than other soft toys, have acquired considerable value as collectables of late, with the rarer ones changing hands for five figure sums.

While soft bears on all fours were made before 1900, it was not until around 1902 that the first ones appeared with movable joints and not until 1906 that the teddy bear got its name.

In 1902 US President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, who was a keen hunter, appeared in a newspaper cartoon refusing to shoot a bear cub.

The cartoon go national attention in the US at the time and soon afterwards the bear cub was used in other cartoons featuring Roosevelt.

Steiff bears are still produced today.

At the time soft toy bears were being imported from Germany in large quantities and they soon became popular with Roosevelt’s adult followers. By 1906 the toys had become known as ‘teddy bears’.

The first teddy bears looked fiercer than the cuddly teddies we are now familiar with, as their features were originally modelled on grizzly and brown bears.

But gradually their appearance changed to the furry creature that we know today.
This was due in no small part to a German lady called Margarete Steiff, founder of the Steiff Toy Company. Steiff, who was polio-stricken from an early age, began making underskirts for a firm in Stuttgart in 1877 as a means of gaining independence.

In 1880 she made her first soft toy, an elephant, using felt from her uncle’s felt factory. This was soon followed by pigs, horses, cats and camels and in 1884 she made her first standing bear.

For some time Steiff bears failed to arouse much interest, but a US company placed an order for 3,000 of her bears at the Leipzig Fair in 1903 and the Steiff bear took off.

The fine quality of the bears has ensured that Steiff bears have become one of the most popular makes for bear collectors today.

Arctophiles, as teddy bear collectors are called after the Greek word arctos, meaning bear, will pay thousands and even tens of thousands of pounds for the rarer examples.

While Steiff bears can be identified by the small metal button in the left ear, imitation buttons are now being made so it may be useful to examine an authenticated button before buying.

The designs of the buttons have changed over the years and if they are in good enough condition can be used to determine dates. Prices vary according to age, colour, condition, maker and size.

Only bears in good condition, with their fur intact, and identifiable as being made by a recognised firm have kept or increased their values.

Unusual colours can command higher prices but rare black Steiff bears can fetch as much as £30,000 when they come up at auction though collections can be started from as little as £200 to £300.

This article was first published in Collectors Corner, Oct 1st, 2000 in the Sunday Business Post

Topographically speaking volumes

Title Pic with Moone Abbey Kildare

This article was first published in ‘Collector’s Corner’ of the Sunday Business Post, September 24th, 2000

Christ Church, Dublin – Francis Grose c.1792

Although the term ‘topographical painting’ suggests connections with local geography, landscape and mapmaking, in the strictest sense topography means the portraiture of places.

The topographer’s task was chiefly to gather information and record a view for posterity. The topographical artist was a true transcriber of what he saw before him, and although the accuracy of the representation varied with the abilities of the individual artists, their contribution to the body of historical record and to the development of art should not be underestimated.

Topographical painting in watercolour in Ireland began around the middle of the 17th century, and over the next 150 years Ireland’s towns, cities and countryside were preserved for posterity, through pen and ink by a small, but select group of artists who devoted themselves to travelling nationwide and recording what they saw.

Artists such as Francis Place, (1647 to 1728), Francis Grose, (1731 to 1791), John James Barralet, (1747 to 1815), William Ashford, (1746 to 1824), the Brocas family (mid-17th to mid-18th century), George Petrie, (1790 to 1866), WH Bartlett, (1808 to 1854), and of course James Malton, (c.1760 to 1803) devoted the best part of their lives to the art form.

They all possessed a common characteristic: an ability to record scenes with extraordinary accuracy. This, combined with their aesthetic appeal, bestowed their work with great historical importance.

The artistic profession in the mid-1700s was not a well-paid one, unless of course it was by way of regular portrait commissions, and they were few and far between. When a number of engravers set up shop in Ireland around that time it provided great encouragement for the watercolourist. The work could now be appreciated in every home at a modest price and their names would be known by more than just the monied few.

Castleyard Dublin, By James Malton

The late 18th century saw a new type of print being introduced which could convincingly suggest the delicate wash qualities of watercolour which was a drawback with the older engraving process. This new print, the aquatint, proved extremely popular, and it was common for publishers to employ teams of engravers and colourists for fulfil the growing demands of the newly rich. It was common for the plate to be printed in two or three colours, which added an extra appeal.

One of the artists who quickly saw the potential of this new medium was James Malton. Malton had arrived from London around 1785 where he had studied geometry and perspective. He worked for a period as a draughtsman in the office of architect James Gandon, designer of the Customs House, among others, but as he was an accomplished watercolourist, he decided his talents lay elsewhere.
Indeed his father and his brothers were also fairly adept in the field. His brother Thomas held evening drawing classed in London and numbered among his more famous students one budding artist named JMW Turner.

James Malton’s famous and valuable pictorial record of the city of Dublin, A Picturesque and Descriptive View of the City of Dublin, Displayed in a Series of the Most Interesting Scenes Taken in the Year 1791, was published in parts from 1792 to 1799. The plates were made from watercolour drawings executed by Malton.
A total of 25 were reproduced in etching and aquatint with the work carried out by the artist himself. Each plate was accompanied by a descriptive text, headed by a dedication and vignette in aquatint by Malton. All were inscribed.

They proved so popular that printing continued until the 1820s. Although Malton’s fame rests largely with his 25 views of the city, copies of his prints are now highly sought after by collectors, and the book is still popular today.

James Adam has a set of 22 monochrome engravings, together with two maps by Malton, for sale on Wednesday. They come with an estimate of between £3,000 and £5,000.

This article was first published in ‘Collector’s Corner’ of the Sunday Business Post, September 24th, 2000

Books for pleasure and profit.

This article first appeared in the Collector’s Corner of the Sunday Business Post on 20 February 2000


Book collecting has for years inhabited an inaccessible world of dark, musty shops open only to the erudite and the initiated This esoteric image may have been true once. but today it is a myth.

The business is thriving with new areas and genres emerging every year and new collectors, dealers and sources of supply popping up. In recent years the growth in book fairs has seen new collectors come in to whet their appetites, then move on to buying from rare book specialist. and auctioneers. The book collecting world has been dragged into the 21st century and is alive and thriving. But why collect ‘old’ books at all? Surely a new, more attractive and modern reprint of Ulysses by James Joyce would be preferable to a fragile old featureless copy of the book first printed in Paris in 1922?

If you do have a copy of the first edition, I would be glad to exchange old for new. The first edition, which was printed in Paris in 1922 by Shakespeare and Company, was limited to 1,000 copies, 100 of those on handmade paper and signed by the author.

A conservative estimate for one of those copies would be £10,000 to £20,000, but, given the newfound wealth in this country the estimates are best left in the land of fiction until one comes up for auction. A rare event indeed.

Books have always been soughtafter collectibles, the two most obvious attractions being size and price. It is easy to build up a library swiftly on a limited budget once you have chosen your area of interest and selected recognised and reputable sources.

You can choose what you want, pay for it and take it home, or even have it posted directly to your home if you are buying from a dealer’s catalogue. Rare booksellers and auctioneers are your best bet for advice and supply

It must be remembered that they are collectors themselves and thus should not steer you too far wrong. If you build up rapport with a dealer or auctioneer you will have a friend, instructor and confidant who will be only too willing to give you a call when something comes in that is in your area of interest.

Some of the general areas of interest are outlined below, but this is not a finite list, as there are subsections to nearly all subjects.

  • Modern First editions
  • Illustrated books
  • Early printed books
  • Travel and cartographic books
  • Natural history books
  • English literature
  • Sport and leisure books
  • Children’s books
  • Fine printing and typography
  • Performing arts books
  • Bindings

Factors which add to a book’s value include the edition and impression  seek as early an edition as possible

If a jacket was supplied with the original copy, it is a good addition if you are to get the best price. But don’t be put off purely by that.

Also important are the number of copies in print, whether the book is signed or not, the number of illustrations  and whether they all present as was fully. intended by the printer.

As regards the author whether he or she is living or dead can have an effect. As with painters, recently deceased authors get a very bad deal

Finally, the binding is of cardinal importance. Some books are collected regardless of content purely because of the quality of craftsmanship and beauty of their bindings.

Most book dealers produce catalogues, so a phone call or a visit should be enough to get you started. There is only one specialist book auctioneer in Ireland.  Other auction houses sell books but on a smaller and less frequent scale.

Obviously with such a broad field to cover and space limitations, it would be impossible to go into any great detail at this point. In later columns. we will discuss the finer points of book collecting in detail.

But in general. remember that collecting books should be fun. Buy in your area of interest, read what you buy, and enjoy them for what they are.

The best way to learn is to ask the people who love book collecting. Before long you will have caught the bug.