by Joao-Manuel Mimoso
Several people over the years wondered how I had collected so many hotel labels. Curiously, no one ever asked how did I manage to gather the information on artists, printers and the history of the use of hotel labels that I published on the Internet and otherwise. I have always told that, as pertains to my collection, I was on the shoulders of other collectors from whom I had received the fruits of decades of collecting and over whose efforts I had further built. But it dawned on me that the story of the collection is worth telling, not to flatter my self-esteem (if you read further on, you will notice that for part of the time I am just a lesser actor), but to put to writing an episode on the history of the collecting of hotel labels. So, here goes the story of my collection:

When I was 10 and finished my first four years of schooling, my parents offered me a trip to Spain. I would love the country ever since... Anyway, I was also offered a small travel case where I packed a few belongings and off we all went. First stop was at the Hotel Gredos in Madrid. After a few eventful days we were leaving when a porter appeared with a can of glue and three labels (one red, one blue and one green) with the name of the hotel in them, and started sticking the first on to my case. I was bewildered and stuttered an inquisitive question in my best Spanish (that sounded suspiciously like Portuguese). The porter smiled and explained that the hotel prided itself of my preference and was marking my case with a token of my stay, as would all the hotels where I would stay. I let him stick the first (which was all messed with glue anyway) but kept the other two as I kept labels from the other hotels where we lodged, in Salamanca and Segovia.

Those three labels (of which only two were actually usable) from the now lost Hotel Gredos in Gran Via were my very first.

During the next five years I added to my collection in every possible occasion. Several major collectors were active at the time in Portugal but the foremost of them was Fernando Laidley, an adventurer and a colorful character if there ever was one in this field. In 1955 Laidley bought a secondhand Volkswagen Beetle and with a mechanic companion and a revolver at hand started a peripheral tour of Africa which he concluded almost a year later, having survived an attack by bandits, being stuck in the matope (a thick, unforgiving, African mud), mechanical failure, and adulation in Portuguese West and East Africa. He wrote chronicles to Portuguese media as he progressed and after the successful return home he wrote a book about his adventurous tour of Africa that became an international bestseller. He traveled far and wide in the following decade, picking a lion somewhere in Africa that ended up living with him for two years. Wherever he went he collected labels from all the local hotels and to him we owe many 1950-60s labels from several small locations in Africa, India and the Far East common in collections today that would, if not for him, passed unnoticed and been lost. Whenever he found labels in the process of printing, he would talk the shop master into also producing a few misprints for his collection.


Laidley found out that an important Italian collector living in Rome and called I.Gambini wanted to sell away his labels to pursue a different interest. He flew there and returned with what every collection needs: a large group of early labels, including a particularly strong set of Italian-made labels for Egyptian hotels. But he eventually grew tired and sold out his collection to another collector in the rise, who aspired to become the world's biggest in terms of number of labels owned. He was Dr.Azevedo Pereira of Lisbon who eventually would incorporate other collections and end up with an amassment of some 50,000 labels, said to be the second largest in the world.


During the late sixties the number of Portuguese collectors of hotel labels peaked at well over 100. The two largest collections in the country were those of Dr.Azevedo Pereira and Mr.Osvaldo da Encarnação (said to be the world's third in number of labels). Another equally noteworthy collector was Mr.Carlos de Sá Cardoso, also of Lisbon. Unlike most of the others who did travel only through their hobbies, Mr.Sá Cardoso was a keen traveler with a collecting interest for the places where he visited, particularly Asia, South America, and the Portuguese overseas possessions.

But by the early eighties the interest had vanished and only a few single-minded collectors remained. Dr.Azevedo Pereira decided to sell his collection (which he prouded himself of incorporating several other collections). None of the then collectors seemed likely to pay his price and the collection ended up sold to two parties and split between Mr.Sá Cardoso, who kept Asia, Australia, Africa and the Americas; and a trader in paper items for collectors, called Rui da Luz, who kept Europe, including Portugal. He was seen selling box loads of labels at a local flea-market and the news spread that the European collection of Dr.Azevedo Pereira, by then deceased, had been parted and sold in pieces.


At the same time, as the 1970s rolled into the 1980s and these into the 1990s, I was busy carving my place in the professional milieu and battling through a condemned marriage. By 1992 I had finally found my place in life and was calmly starting a second life, with a new wife, new house, new job and eventually new interests. One day, I was browsing through the wares of a seller in Lisbon's Saturday street market and picked up a copy of the 1939 Portuguese edition of the Wizard of Oz. The young man wanted a fair price which I paid. When I was about to leave, an idea that laid forgotten for 25 years crossed my mind and I asked "Hey, do you have any hotel labels?". I could never explain why I thought of asking it because I was not the least interested in the few hundred labels I had amassed until 1969 and that laid tucked inside a drawer in my parents' house. He shrugged and said "Well, I have the world's second collection"...

He was no other than Rui da Luz and he was overstating some. Of his original share of the Azevedo Pereira collection, half (including France and Italy) had gone to his former wife when they divorced. But he had sold nothing of the great collection, the only stuff that he actually sold were the many duplicates that by themselves made up a major collection. To make a long story short, I ended up buying whatever part of the collection was in the possession of Rui da Luz, by another impossible coincidence I met his former wife who was keen to let go of a carload of classifiers full of labels and so I acquired her part as well (at a fair price stipulated by Rui da Luz) and bought the untouched classifiers of Africa, the Americas and Australia from Mr.Sá Cardoso, who had only integrated Asia and the Portuguese possessions into his own collection. A few years later he called me saying that he would soon be 75 and had decided to dispose of his collection to a younger collector. Of course I was interested and I not only thus reunited the Azevedo Pereira collection but added to it the original Sá Cardoso collection with an extraordinary set of Dutch Indies labels, plus eventually three other important Portuguese collections. And this was only the beginning...


Until the late 1990s I had only amassed labels. Then my inquisitive nature (I am a scientific researcher by profession) puzzled over two matters. Firstly, a seller of old books offered me a piece of paper found inside a XIX century guide. The paper was undoubtedly a hotel label but it preceded by several decades the oldest label I had in my collection... I wondered when was the origin of hotel labels and how did they come to be? I had also noticed that many labels had an attractive design of great stylistic homogeneity. Most of these were signed "Richter & Cº, Napoli". What was the story of this printer and who were the artists behind those designs?

I researched in London, Paris, Brussels, Naples and a few other places. I found many answers to the origins of labels in Brussels and the confirmation in an unique collection purchased in the US and dating to the earliest 1880s. As to Richter & Cº, I picked up the scent at the library of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, where I spent many full days browsing through its unrivaled collection of books about graphic history, generously put at the disposal of a foreign researcher without credentials.

I published my first results in the Internet on the 4th of May 2000, in an unpretentious essay called "A Short History of the Hotel Label", shortly followed by an essay on poster and label artist Mario Borgoni, in which I called the attention to the Richter labels and to their graphic interest. A few months earlier I had joined the Ebay community at a time when only a few dozen labels were at auction at any time that, when eventually sold, went for a trifle. Good labels seldom surfaced (and when they did, they went for a trifle too). My publishings had a double effect: by calling the attention of the Web to hotel labels as collectors items, the demand grew. In time prices started to climb for the better stuff and labels of exceptional quality started to surface. Those essays also established me (little me!) as an authority in the field. Soon I was receiving dozens of offers from people wanting to swap or sell labels and during the following five years I acquired through my Net contacts over a thousand early items that expanded my specialized collection of pre-WW I labels by some ten fold.

The fact that I never sold a label led to the recognition that my essays were totally unbiased by expectations of financial gain. People wrote asking for more and I complied whenever I found the time. I also published in a very serious French research magazine, to make sure that my findings would be conserved in print for the use of future generations. Japanese journalists flew from Tokyo for an interview; a local magazine published a three page article about my collection; an American collector bequeathed to me his collection when he found that he was critically ill...

Fernando Laidley, the first Portuguese collector on a grand scale and the remote origin of my collection, still lives in Lisbon and surely remains an entertaining company. A year ago he was the guest of honor at a TV programme on great adventure travelers. Rui da Luz still sells collector's paper items in his own shop in downtown Lisbon. Mr Carlos de Sá Cardoso also lives in Lisbon and we sometimes dine together, always at a different restaurant. As for me, I still collect labels and gather information. I am always busy with a variety of other interests but sometime in the not too distant future I shall review and complete my texts on hotel labels. I am glad that names like "Richter", "Imbert", "Trüb", "Sweeney", "Nitsche" and "Mario Borgoni" entered the lexicon by my hand and are now justly appreciated. That fact will ensure the survival of their work and the preservation of their memory, after mine is dully long forgotten. Unfortunately the identification of the Good Artist of Richter as "J.Paschal" also entered the medium by my hand and it is likely wrong, as I explained elsewhere. But hey!.. try as I do, I can't be right all the time!
2007-05-19; Joao-Manuel Mimoso
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