Swiss Cheese

Collectors and collecting: the subtle joys of cheese labeling.

This selection of vintage postcards below, on offer at just one of the many desks, stacks and shelves at the Royal National Hotel in Bloomsbury gives a flavour of the monthly anoraks’ paradise that is the Bloomsbury Ephemera Fair.  For anyone with an instinct for ‘collectibles’ – a ghastly word, but in this case, second-hand books, postcards, maps and ‘ephemera’, an excuse for almost anything – these ‘Etc Fairs’  will make them feel they have died and gone to Heaven.

Elves to Elephants

Last Sunday May 31st, the ephemera fair was in full swing just round the corner from another  magnet for collectors and dealers, the London Photograph Fair.    The photograph fair, featured in a blog last year for Cornucopia magazine, is a smaller affair perhaps more tailored to the trade, but delightful for amateur browsing as well.

The New York Times featured a wonderful piece by Dominique Browning recently celebrating the art of clutter; there’s a good deal of cross-over between collecting and cluttering, as those of us with these habits of mind know to our cost.

What is one driven to collect, and why, and what will it ever be worth?

Richard Gold, a dealer at the books and ephemera fair, normally specialises in Judaica.  But among his offerings was a three volume set of Swiss cheese labels, dating from the 1950s and ’60s.

Far-flung view: Veritable Gruyere Extra Fin

To be precise: round labels, from those round boxes of shaved wood, typically containing eight silver-wrapped segments  of processed Swiss cheese, a childhood curiosity, if not exactly a delight.

Who had collected them, and why?   I imagined a Fraulein very much like the above, from a sturdy cheese-making family.   There was page after page, lovingly and carefully centred, conscientiously collected and catalogued in their variations in foreign countries where Swiss cheese sold – Australia, the US, Britain.  It was much more amusing than stamps.

Double Bambi

Perhaps it was an affirmation of Swiss ‘soft power’ – it’s global influence, also registered in chocolate, watches, and cuckoo clocks.

I’m a Swissophile myself; I first visited at the age of three, lived in Geneva as a teenager, and have visited the home canton of the national hero William Tell.   You say Magna Carta and Runnymede, I say the Fields of Rutli.

William Tell and the apple of his eye.

William Tell and the apple of his eye.

Richard Gold was offering the set of three fairly slim volumes at £700.   “I don’t know why I bought it,” he said, chuckling in disbelief, but assured me that these individual labels could sell for  perhaps £10 a piece (period Turkish hat labels for example, command high prices).     Rapid calculations: could you break them up for framing and individual sale, as a dealer in prints would break down a book, or better  somehow create a single wall piece, a collage, or a kind of dot painting.   If Damien Hirst did it the value would be stratospheric.   Consider the possibilities.

Consider the possibilities.

Consider the possibilities.



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