By Rosalie O’Brien
DUBLIN — A rare copy of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic sold at
auction this weekend to an unidentified American bidder for a staggering £52,000, more than double its estimated pre-auction value.
Fewer than 20 original examples of the revolutionary document are known to
exist. Printed on poor-quality paper, most copies were destroyed by the elements — not to mention the gunfire — during Easter week.
The Proclamation is a pivotal part of Irish history. The auction catalogue described it as "the document that launched an uprising that changed Ireland forever." Its seven signatories, who were executed by the British, are widely regarded as the fathers of Irish independence.
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Bidding War at Whyte’s
Almost 85 years ago at the GPO in Dublin, the Proclamation sparked a fierce
volley of bullets. Last weekend, just around the corner from the GPO at Whyte’s auction house, it sparked a fierce volley of bids.
The crowd at Whyte’s swelled as Ian Whyte, the auctioneer, called Lot 236 of
the Eclectic Collector Sale. It was the lot everyone was waiting for – the Proclamation.
In addition to the 70 or so bidders and spectators packed into the second-floor saleroom, there were several bidders on the telephone — three of whom were from the U.S.
Bidding began at £16,500 and quickly escalated. By £36,000, two of the bidders from the U.S. dropped out, just as a local bidder jumped back in. A collective gasp of surprise and delight went through the room. The real bidding war had begun.
The Irish bidder in the room and the Irish-American bidder on the phone from
New York both hung on with the tenacity of pit bulls. With solemn, barely perceptible, nods of his head, the local bidder assented to prices that climbed higher and higher in increments of £1,000.
Until finally, at £52,000, the man in the room stopped nodding. And the man from New York won his piece of history.
According to Ian Whyte, of Whyte’s auctioneers, the buyer is from upstate
New York. He is a wealthy collector of art and Irish historical documents whose father is from Ireland. He plans to give access to the Proclamation and other historical documents from his collection to a college in upstate New York.
As an owner of an original copy of the Proclamation, the man from New York now joins ranks with the likes of King George V and Jean Kennedy Smith.
Other rare examples of the Proclamation soon may find their way to the auction block. "The price might bring a few more copies out of the woodwork," Whyte said.
In the meantime, the £52,000 copy will travel to the United States in the
next two weeks.