By Jef Rietsma
Collector? Jeremy Winkworth.
Collection? Upjohn memorabilia
How did your collection begin? “I started at Upjohn in 1980 and I was in the quality group at the Portage manufacturing site for 37 years. I moved into this apartment in 2014, by myself. I was still working but I had the time and I had 1,000 square feet to do whatever I wanted. So, I just fell into going into estate sales, antique shows, and on eBay, and I just picked out fun things to put on the wall.”
Winkworth said he was with a group cleaning out a warehouse in 2009. They ran across a dozen boxes that featured Upjohn’s corporate history. Winkworth kept the boxes in his office and over the course of time took inventory of their contents. The biggest find, he said, was a few boxes containing 16-mm film dating to the 1940s.
Did you keep any of the items from those boxes? “No, but I did digitalize the film and I scanned all the documents. Around 2013, I started a website focusing on Upjohn history, using a number of the documents and photos recovered from those boxes. The site has grown to 800 web pages and 1,800 images. The earliest videos on the site are from the 1930s and it’s interesting to see how people dressed, how people acted, what the standards were back then … it’s just really fascinating to see.”
Was Upjohn memorabilia widely available? “Not to a great extent. A lot of the early items I now consider collectibles were aimed at doctors and pharmacists. Those are primarily the people who were given Upjohn trinkets and memorabilia, the things that I have attempted to acquire over the past decade or so. In the 1930s, Upjohn launched a publicity campaign to try to persuade people to go to their doctors instead of tough it out or use a home remedy. So, there were items produced at that time, too.”
What’s the most you paid for an item? “I found a metal sign, an outdoor sign, that was $200 that I found at an estate sale.”
Is there an item that eludes you? “Upjohn used to have briefcases, handbags, travel bags, doctor bags that were very distinguishable and on the outer part the bags looked like simulated alligator skin, even though it was cowhide,” he said. “Well, all these bags were made of actual gator skin up until WWII, and I would like to find one of those pre-WWII alligator skin bags. But I’ve been fortunate to pick up some really, really good Upjohn items, so at this point, I feel like I’ve kind of made it.”
What is the one item from your collection you would grab if your apartment was on fire? “That’s a tough question but I have a little diorama of a production line in the 1940s. It’s made of models and it’s amazing it has survived. I picked it up in an estate sale here in Portage, it was owned by a father of a friend of mine. He was in the carpenter shop, so he had actually worked during that era when the model was made and displayed. I was the only one at the estate sale who knew what it was. I think I paid $50 for it.”
Do people attempt to buy items from you? “No, not really. I do get a number of messages, mostly from former employees who reminisce about how they loved working there when it was Upjohn. But I do sometimes buy duplicates of items I already own, just in case I happen across another collector who might be in search of something. I’m happy to help them out.”
Footnotes: Winkworth, 67, was born in England and has lived in the United States since he was 25. A Portage resident, Winkworth also collects Mr. Peanut memorabilia. He calls his eclectic, yet intriguing, home decorations “mantiques.” His Upjohn collection features several hundred items, including more than two dozen original glass pill bottles, some from the late 1800s and still containing their original medicine. He also has a jersey from Upjohn’s 1979 “city league” softball team that made it to the national finals in Massachusetts. Other oddball items: a first-aid kit; wood, shipping containers; handwritten production logs with entries dating to the 1920s; a Michigan license plate that reads 279 UPJ; and a blanket from Upjohn’s one-time conference center, Brook Lodge. Winkworth’s Upjohn website is: http://www.upjohn.net.