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These days free-marketeers like George Bush Jr are rigging markets in steel and grain – 180 years ago the Whig government introduced Corn Laws to protect British farmers from cheaper imports. By the 1830s trade associations opposed the tarriff, claiming it increased the price of the poor man’s bread, and this wine label was a private token of the support for cheaper imports.

Cyprus wine and its imbibers would certainly have benefited from the repeal of the Corn Laws as the island’s wine industry was in decline during the first half of the 19th century. Stamped out with sheaves of wheat, a cornucopia of fruit, a bale of wool and farming implements and the word Free to left and right, the unmarked wine label was presumably commissioned by a merchant c.1838-1845, when agitation for free trade reached a crescendo in parliament.

When the Tory party was returned to government in 1841, Richard Cobden, leader of the Manchester anti-corn law assocation, and his colleague John Bright were also returned to parliament. From this platform their rhetoric could be heard countrywide, and after the Irish potato crop failed in 1845, threatening starvation, prime minister Robert Peel finally decided that tarriffs had to be lifted and the Corn Laws repealed. A salutary lesson, then, in what can be achieved if trade associations have the courage to stand up to unpopular tarriffs.

The value of this wine label was raised five-fold by its historical
associations, and it sold at £420 (plus 15 per cent buyer’s premium).