On Archival Collections I’d Like to See: Booze Labels

Is there a library or archive that collects labels from alcohol bottles? Outside of individual distilleries, vineyards, and hooch factories, of course. An institution with an all-encompassing (or at least a regionally-focused) collection dedicated to the preservation and study of those artistic ads slapped onto the sides of hooch containers.

There are menu collections at New York Public Library, Cornell, University of Washington, and Culinary Institute of America — so there is obviously an interest in saving those bits of ephemera that would normally get shmutzed in the process of a good night out and wiped down or chucked in thrash the next morning.

These menus teach us about food trends, demographic and economic changes, and cultures in and of the geographic area of focus. And that’s amazing. But what about labels stuck on bottles of booze? Surely they could offer a similar education.

Would the entire bottle be preserved? It is part of the product’s image as much as the label. Plus, it’s probably easier to save the whole thing than to remove the label and risk damaging it. How would it be removed without damaging the material or the design?

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These are questions I didn’t have in grad school, but now wish I could have asked my preservation and conservation professor.

The Archives of Michigan has a collection of liquor labels from alcohol produced in the state. Considering how highly regulated the sale of alcohol is in the US, there must be unofficial collections tucked away in state liquor control or tax offices, right? If anyone knows about a regional liquor label archive or an institution that has a collection policy that covers it, let me know. This is such a fascinating subject.

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8 thoughts on “On Archival Collections I’d Like to See: Booze Labels

  1. I love your idea! I’m an archivist at UALR who used to be in the wine/booze industry. To preserve the content from the labels, you would probably need to either get original labels from the bottler that have not been adhered, photograph the labels, or save the entire bottle since labels are very difficult to remove intact.

    As for collections, I would imagine they would be regional as others have mentioned. I worked in a large wine shop with over 2,000 different wines and beers. This was in a state that required distilled spirits to be sold through the Alcoholic Beverage Control so we’re not even touching that category. But it really is a great idea. If anyone is archiving labels extensively, it’s probably somewhere in Europe where certain wineries or vineyards have been around for centuries and oenology is a bigger field. It’s not uncommon to find wine museums in Europe (http://www.museeduvinparis.com/index.php/en/). They often have old bottles on display and they may hold collections of labels.

    Your idea to check with state alcohol control boards is a good idea. They MIGHT have some stuff. But I think people who study alcohol (oenologists or brewers, for example) might be better equipped to tell you who (if anyone) has a collection of labels.

    I personally save corks from special bottles of wine that I drink. More expensive bottles tend to have corks specific to the winery.

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