What the collection Old Labels is: it is a classified assortment of labels of wines, liqueurs, and other beverages, dating back to the late 1800s and into the early 1900s.
Features of the Old Labels: They were never pasted on bottles; this is why they have preserved their bright colours. Although the name of the drink is printed on the label, the company name is not ( a century ago, few companies had their names printed on labels when goods were ordered) They have a cosmopolitan taste as they are from different European printing houses and show illustrations referring to subjects from four continents.
Chromolithographs at the end of the 19th century: the Passport series, the Banknote series, most probably from the Bognard printing house of Paris, and which are artistically difficult to attribute (we are reminded of H.Daumier's works), show picture card subjects which were the collectors' rage over a hundred years ago! Specimens excellently preserved. We could well speak of "Gold Labels" rather than "Old Labels".
-Interesting record of printing techniques and language used in advertising.
-Witness to the history of uses and customs, of a society now a hundred years old.
-Thanks to skilled illustrations, a chromolithographic brilliance, these prints
can hang on the walls of a room or be part of a collector's album.
-Historical reference for each collection, even modern, of wine and liqueur labels.
- Perfect decoration for wine shops, offices, agencies.
- Suitable for important firms, as underground museum pieces and to exhibit in the upper
picture gallery of the building.
List of countries figuring as illustrated subjects:
In the Passport series: AUSTRIA, BELGIUM, BRASIL, CHINA, FRANCE, ENGLAND, ITALY, RUSSIA, SPAIN, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, TURKEY
In the Banknote series: ARGENTINA, BELGIUM, CANADA, FRANCE, JAPAN, ITALY, HOLLAND, PORTUGAL, RUSSIA, SPAIN, , UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, TURKEY
LETTERS AND CERTICATES OF ACQUISITIONS: THE BRITISH MUSEUM, BODLEIAN LIBRARY , RACCOLTA DELLE STAMPE BERTARELLI , NATIONAL BIBLIOTECA OF FLORENCE (Italy), GABINETTO DISEGNI E STAMPE GALLERIA DEGLI UFFIZI (Florence - Italy)
Short history of wine and liquor labels
Ancient containers: amphoras,
wineskins, butticule, arborelli
Among the archaeological material amphoras have been found with friezes representing wine grapes and leaves. But these artisan interventions had a more decorative than classifying function. Contrary to those amphoras which were used to contain oil only for one time (once), as a repeated use would have caused a bad odor, the amphoras which contained wine could be employed several times. But this way the denomination of origin could change and it became necessary to mark this earthenware with coal or chalk in order to point out date and place of origin. In the ancient world there used to be also containers of organic material : the wineskins. This was practically nothing else than an animal’s skin turned inside out (mostly goatskins) while its openings were sealed up. The fur on the inner side was able to keep back the dirt. The wineskin was a perfect insulating container and served for the storage as for the transport of liquids. As a matter of fact the wineskin could be fasten on the back of a beast of burden. The Gospel is mentioning this container when it suggests to put the new wine into new wineskins. The birth of the label has a historical and logical antecedent in (with ?) its natural support: the bottle. Now we need to remember that centuries passed before the glass bottle started to substitute the wooden bottle. The wooden bottle was a container composed by small staves. In Latin it was called “butticula” (parvas buttis).
A particular observation is going to the container called “arborello”: a pottery container of cylindrical form, employed by the grocer (drugger, chemist ?) to contain medicines.
The “arborello” is identifying itself somehow with the label; in deed, on the convex ceramic surface appears a writing surrounded by a decorative frieze; you can say that the origin of the label is going back to this exact moment.
The first paper indexes : paper rolls, paper prints (bottelli), contents advice( polizzini).
Parchment and papyrus were the first support of handwritten documents.
They were employed as paper rolls, envelopes, or small rolls which were tied up at the neck of the container. At the beginning the application of pape, introduced by the Arabs, was reserved to only important documents. With the invention of mobile characters, the use of paper got a larger expansion.
There were also leather containers; leather was a material which could be treated with fire printing . This type of printing was sufficient to certify the origin and quality of the contents.
The art of glassmaking, which for a long time produced only objects of luxury , started suddenly to destine its first diaphanous vials of glass and crystal to contain also drinks. To the beginning of 19th century there appeared already the first printed labels which in Italian were called “polizzini”: small documents of guarantee which certified the quality and quantity of the drink, giving indications on the manufacturing House. Coats of arms and emblems accompanied the friezes on the “ polizzino”. Another antecedent of the label is the “bottello”.
“Bottello” is the product of a printing-press: practically a simple paper stripe edged by essential friezes which pointed out the year of the vintage, the name of the producer and the denomination of the drink. “Bottello” an onomatopoeic voice which recalls the blow the printing-press produces in the moment of the impression.
The advent of the real label:
etiqueta, étiquette, label
For serveral centuries the word etiqueta was used to point out a ceremonial of court in Spain, but also in France and in Italy. “To observe the etiquette” meant to follow the rules of an aristocratic behavior. Only afterwards the word came to designate a small ticket sticking on a container.
It became a certificate of guarantee and also a form of commercial purpose. It may happen to read on an ancient label: in order to prevent imitations of this product, be advised that our labels will bear our trade-mark, bottles devoid of this do not deserve your trust.
During the first decades of 19th century the products multiplied and so the number of labels and the taste for figurative objects came to be added to the taste for decorative objects ; not only typographic friezes but also figures and views of landscapes.
In order to represent concretely the power and strength, the labels show figures from the mythology like Jupiter, Venus and Mars or from history and even from the chronicle such as kings, maidens, and warriors. In the same moment are appearing more and more declamatory writings: the pontiff's nectar, the pilgrim's liqueur, cognac Napoleone etc..
The splendor of the chromolithographic print: chromos and passpartout
It is correct to say that the chromolithography gave color to the label and helped it to reach almost immediately its apogee; this ticket, which we call label, found its splendor probably in the period between the end of 19th and mid of 20th century.
In the chromolithographic labels which we will call “chromos”, the mastery of both the typographer and the artist is absolutely evident. In the ancient procedure of chromolithography, the layers of the picture and the colors were transmitted to 12 or 13 stones, corresponding to a magic rainbow of luminescence. The thirteenth stone was employed to decorate these minuscule masterpieces with a golden background (in this case the label reminds to middle-age miniatures ). Often, with the last printing, a thin layer of lacquer was added , a procedure which explains the intact shine of this product. During this printing procedure it was not possible to employ typographic types; they were subsequently superimposed. In the same period we live the triumph of the passpartout: we are talking about the same label which is going to be employed on different liqueurs. A big typographic company created a series of labels; which were then distributed to various printing-houses, who added the name of a wine or a liqueur according to the request of their client. It happened that the same label appeared to illustrate different products of different countries. Somehow the label became the result of an assembled product. Pictures and color created in Paris, Berlin and Milan were distributed to whole Europe to printing-houses who added typographically indications concerning the drink and denominations of the producer. Practically it was an exchange of basic products among the principal European printing houses.
Birth of a collection market : the sticker of the great stores
It was the time in which La Bonne Marchè had used its golden opportunity employing collection-stickers which were collected in and out of Paris; the Liebig, welcoming the advertisement lesson, sold its meat extracts giving as free gift its popular collection stickers. The producers of liqueurs soon reach the same level fixing these collection-stickers on their bottles. The printing-house Bognard in Paris produces on commission of the Liebig 12 collection stickers which represent 12 passports and offers them at the same time also to the industry of the liqueurs, which employs them in form of labels inviting to collect them all. The customer being a potential collector tries to purchase at any rate the 12 bottles which show these passports. To the lucky series of those 12 Passports corresponding to 12 Countries, is going to be added a series of Banknotes, three of them are dedicated to France.
The most important nations are represented in these two series. The intention of the advertising direction of these products is destined to the collectors of a lot countries. The label intents itself as a promotional offer: it is not a precise advertisement of the product, but a gift destined to satisfy who purchases the bottle.
A mirror withdrawing a society: expression of an epoch
From the last decade of 19th century up to the First World war we recognize a period which influenced the social and artistic climate not only in France, but also in other countries: the “belle èpoque” . The entertainment as cabaret with its care-free and unrestrained spirit as well as the theatres, the thèatre gai au boulevard with its satiric comedies devoid of any social value are probably the most representative manifestations of this social phenomenon. This idea has been reproduced on the labels of that period. The labels show us an educated society in its spontaneous demeanour in front of the reality: they express the taste for everything pleasant, exquisite and extraordinary and also the refusal concerning the disquieting aspects of life.
The liqueur-labels of this period are aesthetically valuable. The thematic returns to recurrent subjects: the choice of caricatured and satirical scenes and the taste for exotic things. Artists like Pierre Lotì expressed in their works enchantments from the Middle East and the beaches of Polinesia and Caribs: this is a theme of spatial escape. The escape becomes temporal and is represented through scenes which reverberate the pomp of the classical antiques.
Afterwards and during the Belle époque the floral style is exploding: the Art Nouveau.
The art nouveau introduces its zither strings, stalks, leaves and corollas of poppies into the label . The geometry of the marginal friezes has been interrupted and the writings themselves, appearing in form of fantasy types, obtain accents of languor: Roses’ liqueur , fairy-liqueur …
The modern label: advertisement
for a commercial product
To the beginning of the last century a new printing process was going to be affirmed. It allows to form a label associating the printing types and the use of colours : The four-colour process. In this moment the printing-block has replaced the lithographic stone. With 4 or 5 typographic impressions a mixture of colours has been obtained which is conferring a brilliant look to the label. A label of this period can be recognized due to little smudges of the various inks and also due to light reliefs which have been caused by the interlaying. The interlaying was used by the masters of typography . It was a paper relief which the typographer created in order to evidence the writings on the label. The result of these products is still excellent. The arrival of the offset printing introduces a much more expeditious procedure; but it is also the end of the direct printing. The colours are more opaque; the colour black is getting a grey tonality : the label is becoming a more commercial product but, from the aesthetical point of view, the label is becoming poorer. Between the labels of former times and the actual ones you can often find the same difference you can recognize between an oil-painting and a simple water-colour- painting. Therefore a lot of producers require the direct printing. In spite of the higher cost they prefer the really satisfactory result. The great manufacturing houses of liqueurs prefer to re-propose the original design , the same which appeared from the beginning. This is the way they intend to recall the prestige which is connected to the antiquity of their product. The accurate printing , often also enriched by golden reliefs, confers a superb and winning aspect to their brandy.
Wine labels: commercial product
and now proposal for the collection-world
A juridical rule, coming into force in the fifties, orders to the manufacturing houses to add indications concerning the date of vintage, quantity and alcoholic strength of the contents, the denomination of the producer and also the geographical origin on the label.
Somehow the label was assuming the form of a document. It was clear that the label had to attest something and at the same time had to appear winning and pleasant. However, the procedure of indirect printing didn’t reach the result of the chromolithography and the zincography.
The theme represented on the labels refers to manifold aspects of the territory, of the chronicle and the history. In some cases the label seems to debase itself towards political interference. Wines also liqueurs ) are found which show curious denominations: Stalin Liqueur, Mussolini Liqueur, Don Camillo Wine and Beppone Wine. Views of landscapes, pictures of farms, villas and castles and, coats of arms are appearing on these labels , the same labels you could admire during the last century . With the effort to meet the demand of the by now consolidated collection-world, series with subjects, similar to series of postage- stamps , have been proposed: flowers, butterflies, cats and even repents. The series have the suggestion of the advertisement introducing the advertising language which has to convince the client to purchase.
The collection-world in expansion
The passion for paper could not permit itself to ignore the label as an advertising product and also document for habits and society. Already at the end of 19th century the purchaser of wines and liqueurs could secure some stickers which have been presented in form of labels. It is known that among the collectors a strong interest lit up for the chromos which some manufacturing companies of meat, chocolate and drinks offered in addition to whom bought their products. Since the 50th of last century the wine-and liqueur- label collectors have multiplied. The division of this enormous number can be done with the following criterions:
Collectors of liqueur labels,
Collectors of wine labels,
Collectors of ancient labels (from 18th century to the 50th of 20th century),
Collectors of modern labels (from the 50th of 20th century up to today) .
Often the labels have been withdrawn directly from the bottles surface (the bottle had previously been immersed into warm water); but this procedure stressed the label and affected the final result. A matter of fact which caused the interest of the so-called virgin labels, which have never been attached on a bottle. A lot of wine producing houses arrange to print a certain surplus of labels in order to meet the collectors’ demand. An ingenious contrivance which allows the producer to accomplish an advertising operation with positive effect as the label once it is placed in the collector’s album is doing publicity at low cost.