The Rupert Wilkinson Collection of Wine & Sauce Labels is in fact a collaboration of three separate accumulations. Having inherited those of his Grandfather and Grandmother, he was also gripped by the collecting bug and began supplementing his inheritance with a collection of his own. I will let him relate the story in his own words, taken from an article published the The Wine Label Circle
Journal in Autumn 2005:-
I knew when I was young that my Grandfather collected wine labels but never understood why they should interest him and didn't really know what they were. I kept the thought in the back of my mind without paying it undue attention. Or at least until 1998 when I visited my Mother's home to find that I had been given three boxes (which claimed to contain golf balls) by my Grandmother who was clearing her house before a move. I was told that they held my Grandfather's wine labels. My first reaction was that they were less useful than the dinner table, sideboards or television that were being cleared out at the same time. Not forgetting that my Grandfather had been a collector, I was keen to see what the boxes contained, and quietly hoped that I wouldn't find them full of golf balls. I opened the first box, and removed the layer of cotton wool that covered the contents. Underneath it and packed fairly tightly together was my Grandfather's collection of silver wine labels.
Laying them out on my desk, it didn't take a minute to work out that they were labelled for the names of the wines, but what immediately struck me when I first saw them was the variety of the labels in front of me. Where there were escutcheons, they bore different wine names and patterns; where they looked similar, there were different marks on the back of them. I don't think that at any one time I have yet had all the labels set out in front of me, but taking each box in turn, I worked through them, in a state of thoughtful ignorance, wondering whether I would ever own enough decanters to display them all.
Inspired by a trip to the Victoria and Albert Museum and Eric Whitworth's book on Bottle Tickets, my Grandfather bought his first label, which was a vine leaf for WHISKEY by Joseph Willmore in November 1970 for £12. His last recorded purchase was in September 1975 and was an armorial label by Phipps and Robinson for £53, which shows that he learned something during those four years.
I will let him carry on in his own words, written in 1972 for a Wine Label Circle Journal article which never made it out of draft.
"Little did I know that the collection of wine labels was to become an obsession. In fact I thought that perhaps half a dozen labels would fit in nicely with the plan to have what the Victorians called a 'Gentleman's Cabinet' i.e. a collection of curious objects to provide conversation when the talk showed signs of drying up"
Talking about the wine labels that he collected might have led signs of visitors to the house to dry up, but he kept his obsession under some form of control! He (Philip) and my Grandmother (Mary) joined the Wine Label Circle and it was a pleasure to buy back copies and see that they were present at meetings with some of my contemporaries, none of whom could have aged in the slightest since!
It is difficult to see whether there was a pattern to the collection, as with most collectors, he was sustained by the excitement of a new channel for his energies and seems (at least initially) to have bought where labels were available. After only two years he found himself wedding his collection; "there seemed to be a valid case for keeping each and every one, but the average quality of the collection is sensibly improved". A broad interest in eighteenth century labels and a separate and more specific interest in the works of the label maker formerly known as Samuel Bradley (now known as Susanna Barker) and the Binleys seems to have germinated and started to sprout shortly before his final illness too hold. After just four years of enthusiastic collecting, illness took over and additions to the collection came to an end. His collection was left at a stage most comfortably described as representative. It appears that he was more interested in building the backbone of a varied collection rather than chasing the "high flyers" that elude most collectors and even then caused buyers to dig deep.
My recollections of my Grandfather are fairly limited as while he was alive I was too young ever to know him properly. From what he wrote about his wine labels, he appears to have collected in a healthy good humour, cursing the day that he bought his first wine label, as the day he made that "awful decision to collect", and enjoying meeting fellow collectors and dealers as he started to build a collection. He bought from a variety of dealers, auction houses, antique shops, and other collectors, and sold a few labels now and then to other collectors. Notes in his auction catalogues from the time are spookily familiar, recording "went to Barlow" and letters record offers of labels for inspection from Nicholas Long, Norman Krestin, and John Carss, his notes of what he thought of the labels appear on those letters and show some discernment. Where he had bought a set, alert collectors sometimes wrote to ask for one that might be "surplus". Those near to him took notice of his new hobby, my Father finding a label for one of his birthdays, and Margaret Isaac, a silversmith in-law making a label as a gift. No doubt there were some who changed the topic of conversation pretty swiftly, but over the years the family has learned to tolerate
I thought that it would be enjoyable to carry on where my Grandfather left off, and to try to build on the difficult-to-ascertain basis on which my Grandfather collected. My own interests are still broad, as a previously passive collecting gene has sprung to life. Some time after I made that "awful decision" to collect, I bought my first wine label, (and my first, though probably not my last over-priced wine label). Perhaps by coincidence it was a vine leaf, though this one was for MADEIRA and by a different maker, Edward Edwards. I hadn't finished working through my Grandfather's notes at the time and so it was amusing to find out later that we both took the plunge on similar labels.
My Grandmother took a parallel interest, joining my Grandfather as he searched for labels. She built up a collection of sauce labels of her own, but her collecting seems to have come to an end with my Grandfather's. Genetically, I suppose that their Grandchildren didn't really stand much of a chance, although to my certain knowledge, my cousin has only one dining room table.
On checking my Grandmother's notes for information on the sauce labels, I came across the following passage that she must have written during her early collecting years.
"My husband started collecting wine labels some time last year, and I, filled with envy, sat on the side lines encouraging and watching, learning a little as I went on. Having always been interested in silver I perhaps had a better working knowledge of silver marks but I knew nothing of the world of label collectors. One morning, among some wine labels that came on approval were three sauce labels and that was it. I cannot remember ever having seen a sauce label previously, and I was enchanted, or perhaps put under some mad spell. I immediately decided that what I wanted more than anything was a collection of sauce labels and I must say that I am having the uttermost fun with my new hobby. One member of the Wine Label Circle has been particularly helpful and I have had much kindness from others. My first three were very simple, one a neck-ring label and two rectangles, but since then, I have had the good fortune to acquire quite a comprehensive collection covering a variety of shapes, maker's names and sauces, but of course there is still a long way to go."
Some things never change!