Champagne collectables for those beguiled by the grape
A more elastic credit card might stretch to Bancroft's exquisite Georgian claret jug at R23 000
SERIOUS wine lovers - by which I mean those who mature their red and some of their white wines - are, by nature, collectors. They are only too familiar with the deliciously satisfying feeling of owning something enhanced intrinsically and extrinsically by age.
So when a collecting field focusing on the storage, serving and consumption of wine was brought to my attention, I immediately thought of friends and acquaintances who have been beguiled by the grape to the extent that they have built cellars. How wonderful, I thought, in typical magpie mode, to be able to combine the collection of wine with the collection of wine antiques.
When I went to see Peter Mrkusic, who specialises in the field, I was told that what makes wine antiques and collectables even more appealing is that they cut across the boundaries of the disciplines to which most students of the decorative arts are bound; that is silver, porcelain, glass, pictures and even furniture (some wine coolers are classed as furniture).
Indeed, Bancroft, the shop Mrkusic runs with his wife, Felicity, in Village Walk, Sandton, displays wine antiques ranging from an array of wonderfully intricate old corkscrews and individual wine glasses (including Georgian, Art Deco and Italian) to silver - sometimes even Victorian or Georgian - coolers, decanters and decanter labels, funnels and even paintings with wine-related themes. Prices are from R50 to R25 000. "Some collectors confine themselves to, say, corkscrews," notes Mrkusic, "while others are keen on anything relating to wine or liquor."
The other beauty of the field is that it appeals to people with a range of pockets. Decorative glasses and novelty corkscrews can cost as little as R50 apiece, yet they can make marvellously atmospheric decorative additions to a home, restaurant or hotel bar or cellar. On the other hand, a more elastic credit card might stretch to Bancroft's exquisite Georgian claret jug at R23 000.
"What you also musn't forget," says Mkursic, "is that most wine antiques and collectables are useful. Many enhance the enjoyment of wine as much today as they did in years gone by." For instance, he says that champagne taps are sought after not only because they are rare and beautiful but because they are practical. "They allow you to pierce the cork and use a tap to extract the champagne a glass at a time. They're even more collectable if they come in their original cases and can range in price from about R200 to R1 200."
Collectors of corkscrews can be broken down into two categories: those, men usually, who collect them on the basis of their mechanical intricacy; and those who collect them for the artistry of their shape or novelty of their decorative features.
Actor Corbin Bernsen of LA Law fame evidently falls into the former category. "He bought quite a few corkscrews when he happened to pop into Village Walk when visiting South Africa," says Mrkusic, adding that the highest hammer price fetched yet for an antique corkscrew was £10 000 at London auction house Christie's.
Mrkusic explains that the simple corkscrew has three parts: the spiral - also called a worm or a screw - which is driven into the cork; the handle (sometimes attached to a brush which is used to dust off the neck of the wine bottle); and, usually but not always, the shaft. By reference to the form of each part of the corkscrew, collectors are able to identify the different models precisely.
Mrkusic, who recently stopped working as an engineer, and his wife have been dealing in wine and other antiques for more than eight years. He says there has always been collector demand for various fields within the field - corkscrews, glasses, decanter labels - but in the last decade or so the emphasis has shifted to bring all antique wine and liquor related objects under one collector umbrella.
A good book on the subject is The Book of Wine Antiques by Robin Butler and Gillian Walkling (published by The Antique Collectors' Club). ¥ Mrkusic will be showcasing his wares from November 6 to 9 at Susan Ollemans's BCI Fine Art gallery in Parkwood, Johannesburg. The exhibition, titled Bottled Masters, is being held in tandem with the Wine Warehouse's Oscar Foulkes, who will conduct tastings.