Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Tuesday's Tip: An opportunity to own a piece of Irish history

Have you ever participated in an auction of Historic Materials? Although I often look online at Irish memorabilia, such as documents, medals, and ephemera, until a few weeks ago I had never participated in a live auction of such items.

On 13 November 2010, Whytes Irish Art Auctioneers of Dublin held an auction of 'History, Literature & Collectibles'. Whytes has been a Dublin institution since 1783, so I am familiar with the auction house by reputation. Also, when I am in Dublin, I often pass the small storefront of the auction house on Molesworth Street, as I make my way from my favourite morning breakfast spot (Carluccio's) over to the National library. When I returned to Canada I looked up their website to get a better idea of the kind of items they put up for auction, and I registered for their email newsletter.

The site had a catalogue of the pieces which were to be auctioned on 13 November, and had information about registration, pre-bidding, and online 'live' participation. I looked through the catalogue, pausing now and then to gawk at the artifacts which were way out of reach for me, including some extraordinary documents and medal collections, but also came across some affordable items which would not completely wipe out my piggy bank. The artifacts are grouped into 'Lots'; some lots consist of only one item, some include several pieces, in addition to the featured item. I excitedly showed my husband what I had found, and he encouraged me to participate.

Registration for the auctions is quite straight forward, but includes a credit check of sorts before you are allowed to participate. At first I felt a little offended, but then realized they were just trying to avoid those persons who might madly bid hundreds, or even thousands, of Euros for items which they could not actually afford (an episode of Seinfeld comes to mind here). A few days after I applied, I was sent an email informing me that I had been approved to bid.

Three items were on my wish list:
1) A circa 1880 "God Bless Ireland" embroidered flag
2) A pair of Maid of Erin silver buckles, circa 1920
3) A 'Lot' of books including Reverend Patrick Woulfe's Irish Names and Surnames, 1923.

There were a few glitches with the online bidding process. I lost out on the silver buckles because my bid did not register, but I won the bid for the flag, the book, and a second 'Lot' of books as well. Last Thursday, the items arrived. They were wrapped so well that unpacking them was akin to breaking into Fort Knox; however, now that I have them I feel incredible gratitude for the opportunity to own them.

Currently, I am investigating the history of this extraordinary embroidered flag.

The collection of books is outstanding. In addition to the Woulfe book, there are two others about Irish Christian names and surnames, both produced by the Registrar-General for Ireland, dating to 1901 and 1909, respectively. All three are filled with lots of useful information, such as ethnology, derivation, and distribution, so if you have any Irish surnames you're researching, please send me an email and I will very gladly look them up for you.

Long story short, since this is a tips post, the tips are:

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. 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.
4. Invest in history.
You may come across something extraordinary which connects to your family, or at the very least to their country of origin.

*Click on photograph to view larger version.
All Materials ©Copyright J.Geraghty-Gorman 2010.


  1. How exciting - I'm pleased you got the flag and the books. I'm going to have a look at Scottish auctions now! Thanks for the tips :-)

  2. Hi Jo, Thanks for your comment. Lovely to hear from you. Cheers! Jennifer

  3. Did your beautiful flag come with the frame??

    It is truly beautiful, how wonderful for you.

    Happy dance congrats!!

  4. Very interesting article and equally interesting blog. Lovely items - thanks for sharing (now I have some new sites to check out!).

  5. Hi Carol,
    Thanks for your comment. Lovely to hear from you. Hope the trip is going great! The flag did come with the frame, thank goodness, because I'm afraid to touch it in case I damage it somehow. I keep thinking about the woman who created it stitch by stitch oh so long ago. I really hope to uncover her history. Jennifer

  6. Hi Tessa,
    Welcome to my blog; it's nice to cyber-meet you. Thanks for your comments. I really appreciate them. By the way, check out Carol's and Jo's blogs, if you haven't visited them already. Lots of great family history and info to be read on them too. Cheers! Jennifer

  7. The flag is just fabulous! Beautiful colors, beautiful stitching. Congratulations. Thanks for this information. I'd never thought about participating in something like this. I'll have to seek out sources for my families' geographic areas. My Irish ancestors' names are Bartley and Doyle. One of my cousins is researching Bartley and I haven't taken Doyle past northeast England. Thanks for sharing.


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