ephemera: How did you become interested in fruit wrappers? They're so quintessentially ephemeral. I'm intrigued by your vast collection of them.
Wickens: I became interested in fruit wrappers in 1983. One day, while doing my fruit and vegetable shopping, I was putting clementines in a plastic bag. I was pulling off the wrappers and casting them aside. At one point, I picked one up, flattened it out somewhat, and looked at the design—a hummingbird holding a huge orange in its beak. The design, which was quite attractive, looked very Japanese. However, the wrapper read Product of Spain. This intrigued me. By the time I left the shop, I had found several other wrappers, most with curious or alluring designs and/or brand names. The following week, I found another batch of wrappers, and so on. I only collect wrappers with pictorial designs--people, mammals, birds, mythological creatures, landscapes, airplanes, angels, coats of arms, buildings, ships, flowers, etc. My collection contains about 12,000 different wrappers from about 75 countries and colonies The wrappers date from 1895 to the present.
ephemera: That's a lot of wrappers. What's the biggest challenge in finding new ones?
Wickens: At the beginning, the two biggest challenges were to find a quick, safe, and easy method to flatten used wrappers, and a convenient way to store wrappers in general. I consulted an art conservator, who taught me how to do both.
The main challenge now is finding new wrappers. Most old collections have been snatched up by collectors in the past 10 or 20 years, and contemporary wrappers are difficult to come by. Until about 1995, I would find several new wrappers every week, sometimes eight, ten, or even more. Since then, I have considered myself lucky if I find five new ones a year. Very little of the fruit in Montreal markets is wrapped anymore, and the few wrappers that do surface almost always bear designs from previous years. Fruit wrapper collectors in Europe are facing the same problem. However, large numbers of Egyptian and Turkish wrappers are now surfacing in Middle Eastern markets.
ephemera: It sounds like great fun to hunt these things down. What are your favorite finds?
Wickens: I have many different favorites, and my preferences change from year to year. I like many of the old wrappers (pre-1940) from faraway places, such as New Zealand, Australia, Rhodesia, Transvaal, Mozambique, prewar Palestine and Lebanon, when it was a French mandate. I am often captivated by their beauty and quaintness, even though the designs are of one or two colors only. Some of these wrappers are extremely rare--the only specimens in existence, as far as anyone knows--and in mint unused condition, which seems to make them all the more desirable. My other favorites, at least at this time, are contemporary orange and lemon wrappers from Egypt and pear and citrus wrappers from China, Korea, and Japan. A great many of them are exotic and beautiful. Many Italian wrappers, both old and recent, are simply awesome.
ephemera: They certainly are exotic and beautiful. How do you keep them safe and organized? And what resources do you recommend for anyone interested in following in you footsteps?
Wickens: My advice for achieving success as a collector is to be organized, to know what you have, to follow up every potentially promising lead, and to make contact with other collectors for the purpose of swapping.
Not much has been published in English on fruit wrappers. One book that I would recommend, even though it contains very little text--several paragraphs only--is Oranges & Lemons: Fruit Wrappers from the Victoria & Albert Museum. The subtitle is A Selection of Twenty One Original Designs Faithfully Reproduced in Full Colour. The original designs, from Italy and Spain, date from the 1930s to 1950s and are reproduced on tissue-like paper. The artwork is colorful and invitingly delightful. This book is out of print, but it surfaces occasionally on eBay . I have written a book, in English, on fruit wrappers as an art form, but almost all the other publications on the subject—popular-magazine, journal and newspaper articles, books, and an exhibition catalogue—are in French, German, Italian, Chinese, and Dutch. The book Papiers d’orange by Pascal Pierrey (Paris: Syros-Alternatives, 1991, 95 p.) provides a good overview of citrus wrappers and is profusely illustrated. Another, very recent work, an exhibition catalogue entitled, From Palermo to America, L'iconografia commerciale dei limoni di Sicilia, contains essays in Italian and 'a wealth of color reproductions,' as one of my contacts puts it. Judging from the title, the reproductions are of Sicilian lemon wrappers, many of which are simply gorgeous.
I do not know of any how-to books on the technical aspects of fruit wrapper collecting, i.e., how to flatten and store wrappers. The method I use to flatten used wrappers produces excellent results (acid-free blotters, distilled water, panes of glass, and weights). Very often, the wrapper is so smooth that it is difficult to tell that it had actually been used! I encapsulate all of my wrappers in archival-quality Mylar capsules, which I make myself, and keep the capsules in ringed binders, where they are separated with acid-free interleaves. This is the safest and most convenient method I know of.
ephemera: It's been great fun exploring the world of fruit wrappers. When I began the blog several years ago, I'd hoped to discover little-known aspects of ephemera. And this is certainly an area I had not considered, but it is one that deserves attention. Thank you for sharing your expertise, Mark.