'James Joyce' gold watch owned by Ulysses' John O'Connell brings $80,700

Collectors and fans of great works of literature sometimes wish that they could meet or get closer to the characters in the novels. Sadly, it's usually not possible to collect memorabilia from the creatures of an author's mind.

However, at a recent Irish auction there was a remarkable exception: The gold watch from a character in Ulysses went under the hammer. This was not a watch inspired by that in book, nor a piece of memorabilia from a film adaptation or the suchlike, but that belonging to John O'Connell, the caretaker of Glasnevin Cemetery.

Although Ulysses is not a biography, James Joyce drew on real life for the novel. The caretaker existed, and he owned a gold watch with a chain just as his fictional alter-ego did:

"The caretaker hung his thumbs in the loops of his gold watch chain and spoke in a discreet tone to their vacant smiles."

James Joyce Ulysses gold pocket watch John O'Connell chain
John O'Connell's gold pocket watch with chain from James Joyce's Ulysses

It was listed at €8,000 (roughly $10,700), suggesting a caution by the auction house (Adam's) as to how much weight the literary connection would carry. They could have been more sanguine about it.

In the event, bidders were extremely to get hold of the watch - a unique opportunity to get close to Leopold Bloom, the protagonist of one of the 20th century's truly iconic novels - and it finally sold for €60,000 (around $80,700).

"When we first saw the watch and chain we suggested to one another that it could conceivably make as much as €25,000 but tempered our expectations and our client's as a conservative estimate had a much better chance of providing success.

"The watch was purchased by an Irish collector whose son was born on Bloomsday and to whom he intends leaving it."

Ulysses is a book which has consistently inspired collectors. In 2009, an unsigned Ulysses 1922 first edition sold for £275,000, while one of only two Joyce-signed first editions made $460,000 (£285,000) at Christie's in 2002.

When collecting authors, it's never been exclusively about the books, however. We've sold a strand of Charles Dickens's hair as well as documents written by the man. (In fact asmallpieceofhistory.com is selling some of the Christmas Carol author's hair at the moment.)

We're currently offering another piece of memorabilia associated with a near-contemporary of Joyce: a preserved autograph of Thomas Hardy, who died a few years after Joyce's groundbreaking Ulysses.

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