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February 2018

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Butler's Antiques Newsletter February 2018 No. 90
As usual, I start by extending a warm welcome to my new customers and to those receiving my newsletters for the first time. 
I was very saddened to hear of the loss in a fire of a great many bottles of fine wines and vintage tractors from the winery at Ten Minutes by Tractor - our favourite estate in Australia.  Our feelings go out to Martin Spedding, his family and those who work there. The tractors and wine may, at least in part, be replaceable, but the continuity and the good name of the restaurant are bound to be affected.  To read more, please click here
Robin Butler
What is in a bottle?
I have said on many occasions in these newsletters that one of the greatest enjoyments in my business is finding objects within my specialism that I have never seen previously.  Of course, antiques for the most part, are hand made, so even those in pairs or sets are marginally different from one another; in that respect, they are not unique. However, I'd like to write about something  I have just found something that falls into the really rare category.  It is not unusual in just one respect, but three.  But first let me set the scene with a little history...
In 1821 Henry Ricketts of Bristol invented a three-part mould to make wine bottles of uniform size.  Once bottles were all similar, it was possible to sell wine by the bottle which previously had been bought by the measure (a barrel, a gallon, a hogshead or whatever) and then bottled for the customer.  Wine was not sold in paper-labelled bottles in Britain until 1861, although it was in the United States and elsewhere.  To know the contents of a bottle when it was in one's cellar from c.1735 to 1861, bin labels of white pottery (usually) were hung over or beside a bin containing many bottles of one wine.
Bin labels hung over two bins, but not apparently of identical bottles!
 Once the wine was decanted, a silver (usually) label was hung around the neck of the decanter.
Two views of a wine bottle from Henry Ricketts' factory, c.1825.  Note the faintly moulded "Patent" around the shoulder of the bottle and the moulded inscription to the underside. 
The 'standard' bin label is about 5" (13 cm.) wide and made of white or cream pottery upon which is written in capital letters the name of the wine.  They were intended to be read by candle-light in the working environment of a dark cellar, so had to be very clear.  Most bin labels date from the first half of the 19th century, after which labelled bottles made them obsolete.  Most bin labels are for generic wines - Claret, Port and Sherry for example, which comprise perhaps as many as 90% of all extant.  Individual chateaux are prized collectors items, as are 18th century delftware ones.
Typical, if some are quite rare, bin labels c.1830 - 1890
The majority of bin labels were made by the Wedgwood, Spode or Copeland pottery companies and many have the marks impressed on the back and often retailed by Farrow & Jackson, who until recently, were major suppliers of beverage paraphernalia to brewers, wine and spirit merchants, pubs and hoteliers.  The label I found earlier this month breaks all the 'rules'; it is not by one of the usual potteries, the legend is not in capital letters and the legend refers to a vineyard near Cape Town, South Africa.   I visited the vineyard (Constantia, now divided between Klein and Groot Constantia), but when I was there, it was being plagued by marauding baboons plundering grapes from the vines!
You may read more about this rarity here here 
The Cost of Selling at Auction
I am pleased to say that I have had no further pleas from auctioneers asking if I would send my stock for them to sell, so perhaps I was reading too much into the e.mail messages I received last month.  However, while I have auctioneering in my sights, I feel I should mention that originally, auctions were where one disposed of unwanted chattels.  They were not regarded as a venue in which to achieve maximum prices; that came much later.  Since the middle of the 20th century, auctioneers have, by smart advertising, cleverly promoted their businesses as one-stop venues to sell anything or even everything.  Perhaps a little caveat should be mentioned at this point.
If you ask an auctioneer to sell a bureau or a Georgian silver mug, he will, in all probability tell you that there will be a commission to pay which depends on the selling price.  It may be anywhere between 5% and 15% and can often be negotiable - but one has to ask.  It is very unlikely that he will tell you , as the seller that he will charge a premium to the buyer in addition to the commission.  This latter charge will be at least 15%, but more likely 20% - 30% + VAT on both commission and premium. This means that a buyer will usually pay about 50% more than a vendor receives.
The auctioneers' premium has been a contentious issue since it was introduced in 1975 and is not a charge for any service; it is merely a charge the buyer is obliged to pay because it says so in the 'conditions of sale'.  And a bid is confirmation of one's acceptance of the conditions of sale.  Personally, I find it extraordinary that a profession can charge both parties in a commercial transaction.  Imagine if a solicitor charged both the buyer and the seller of a property!  There is a law to prevent that, but I see little difference.  Can you? 
The Latest News about the Oldest Antique Wine Accessory
I'll end with something I saw on the BBC news website  this morning - a story concerning the recent discovery of the world's oldest wine.  It was not in liquid form because it had evaporated, but the residue was sufficient to confirm its existence and it was also possible to date it quite accurately.  Until recently it was thought that wine originated in what today is a mountainous region in Iran some 5,000 years ago.  However,these recent discoveries some 30 miles south of Tbilisi in Georgia reveal wine was made there c. 5980 BC.. You can read more of this story here

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