Irish Medals in Gold and Silver from the Collection of James Spencer

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Date of Auction: 17th December 2007

Sold for £200

Estimate: £200 - £250

Belfast, Belfast Exhibition, 1894, a gold award medal by A.H. Darby, robed female seated left, implements of industry around, rev. wreath, named (Awarded to Dunville & Co Ltd), hallmarked Birmingham 1893, 9ct, 30.23g, 44mm (Allen Pt I). Minor obverse rim nicks, otherwise about extremely fine, very rare (£200-250)


John Dumvill (1788-1851) was apprenticed to the whisky blenders and tea importers Napier & Co, Bank lane, Belfast, in 1801. In 1807 he became a partner with William Napier and changed his name to Dunville. In 1825 the business was restyled Dunville & Co and moved to Calendar street. The company launched their best known brand of whisky, V.R., after Queen Victoria’s accession to the throne in 1837. John Dunville’s surviving son, William (1812-74), succeeded his father in 1851 and was in turn joined in the company by his nephew, Robert Grimshaw Dunville (1838-1910). By the early 1860s the tea importing side of the business was wound down and the company built the Royal Irish Distilleries next to Belfast’s Great Victoria street railway station. Robert Dunville became chairman in 1874 and the company was incorporated in 1879. The height of the company’s success was in the 1890s when the distilleries were producing 3 million gallons of whisky a year, funding a lavish lifestyle for Robert and his descendants; his son, John Dunville Dunville (1866-1929) was an enthusiastic balloonist and made what was only the third crossing of the Irish Sea by air in February 1910. But tragedy was to strike John in that his eldest son, Robert Lambart Dunville (1893-1931), a lieutenant in the Grenadier Guards, was mistaken for a spy by Irish Republicans at Castle Bellingham, co Louth, in April 1916, put up against a wall, shot and left for dead. Robert’s brother, John Spencer Dunville (1896-1917) died of wounds received while protecting an NCO of the Royal Engineers in France in June 1917; he was posthumously awarded the VC. Following Robert’s death in 1931 there was no family member to take over the running of the business and after a mooted sale to DCL fell through, it was liquidated in 1936. Much further information is sold with the lot