IRISH COUNTRY FURNITURE: VICTORS’ VERNACULARshirley
We get excited about all the sales we host here at Victor Mee Auctions. Each one means a lot to us. Each one afforded maximum effort by the team. But every now and again a collection makes its way through our saleroom doors that enlivens us more than any other. The collection of Irish country furniture going to auction with us on February 26th is one such collection.
You see, Victor Mee holds a particular affection for this class of antique. His expertise and speciality knowledge spans a range of categories and eras. His passion, however, is earmarked.
“I bought my first hedge chair in the late 1970s for 50 pence,” he recalls fondly. “It was the first piece of vernacular furniture I really fell in love with and what sparked a real appreciation for this type of furniture for me.”
It is rather easy to fall victim to the charms of vernacular furniture. It is quintessentially unfussy. There is no garishness, no vulgarity and no exaggerated decoration. Irish country pieces are uncomplicated and that, according to Victor, is the draw.
“It’s that primitive look,” he explains. “Pieces of furniture like this were never made with attractiveness in mind. They were made to fulfil a necessity within the home, within the community and they were made too in the community using local materials. The hedge chair, in fact, gets its name because the wood was simply taken from local hedges.”
As Irish country furniture goes through somewhat of a resurgence in popularity of late, it is hindered massively by scarcity of supply. And while this is what gives it that collectability and saleability, Victor still talks about it with a palpable air of wistfulness.
“Nothing really would be considered commonplace anymore,” he begins. “A lot of the old vernacular furniture left Ireland a long time ago, exported to America. The late 70s and early 80s would have seen a lot of the old rural homes and thatched cottages being renovated. Out went the old furniture and a lot of Irish Americans bought it up, hoping to bring some of their heritage home with them. I would say that ninety per cent of it has left the country.”
The other elusive ten per cent? Some of it dispersed to museums across Ireland. The National Museum of Ireland is home to a considerable collection. Some remains safely in the hands of private collectors, of which there are few. And some, of course, has been graciously consigned to us for auction on February 26th.
“You might find some discarded in a shed occasionally but that’s very seldom now,” says Victor. “The pieces in our saleroom currently were collected in the 80s by a private collector and have remained in the family ever since.”
The thing is, as an auctioneer, Victor is faced with a bit of an internal conflict with this particular sale. Though thrilled to have the opportunity to view and value this fantastic collection of vernacular pieces, and there is certainly no one more qualified to sell it, the gavel will fall somewhat sombrely as he knows that many of these items will follow the path of their peers and ultimately leave the country.
“We expect to see some new collectors at this auction. There’s some old collectors that are always seeking unseen pieces to add to existing collections.” Ultimately though, says Victor, the majority of bids will come via the internet. “I would definitely expect the internet to be hot on sale day. We have many international clients who join our sales online and we very much welcome and encourage buyers to take advantage of it. But there’s definitely a slight bittersweet aspect in knowing that many of these pieces will likely be sent overseas.”
But business is business. This is our business and where our business comes from is really none of our business.
It is also fair to say that the antiques trade brings its own degree of reassurance. There’s no impulse purchasing at auction. Buyers for collections such as this are rarely naïve. They are looking for particular pieces. They are adding to collections, buying statement pieces for their homes and, often with Irish diaspora abroad, they are simply seeking pieces of their heritage, a bond with their ancestry, a connection with “home” that is delivered in abundance with vernacular furniture of this calibre.
We think that’s rather beautiful and important, even. And, so, though it is with a hint of mournfulness that we expect to see parts of this collection leave Ireland, it is partnered with a certain comfort in knowing that the pieces sold on February 26th are significant to their buyers, that they will be cherished, admired and lovingly preserved no matter where they find their forever homes.
“Being in this room is like being in a time capsule,” Victor says, contentedly moseying his way through the saleroom. “It’s window into an almost incomprehensible way of life for us today. Being surrounded by it sparks the imagination, a story of bygone years. It’s really fascinating.”
As for the stars of his big show on February 26th?
“I suppose the Orkney chairs are the stars,” he muses. “Although they’re not native to Ireland, they were made on the Orkney Islands by a small community which makes them more rare. They’re not often come by, particularly in as good condition as this pair.”
Victors love for the vernacular shines through as he struggles to select some favourite pieces. He pauses in front of a Monaghan Fiddle Front dresser. “It’s in it’s fairly original paint. A famine piece. True history.”
“You know,” he stops himself, “It’s not really one specific thing in this sale. We have a lot of bits and bobs that, together, make a very special collection of Irish history.”
Anything here he’d be keen to add to his own impressive collection?
“All of it,” he exclaims with a laugh. “But that’d be bad for business!”
The exceptional Irish Country Interiors Sale by Victor Mee Auctions takes place on February 26th at 5 pm.