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