Published: 05:00, 27 November 2021
Clarence West hardly touched a drop in the last three decades of his life, but he might have needed a stiff drink if he'd known how much his collection of spirits was worth.
Northfleet man Mr West started collecting bottles for his bar at home in Durndale Lane back in 1971, and over the next five decades filled his shelves with more than 400 bottles of whisky, cognac, rum, gin, vodka and brandy.
Following his death last year at the age of 79, Mr West's family contacted drinks auctioneers Whisky.Auction, and the collection has now sold for a staggering - or maybe sobering - sum of £61,000.
Clarence's wife Rita explained that the life-long businessman would have been delighted with the outcome, but never set to make money through his hobby.
"In 1970 we had an extension put in to build a bar and the first bottle he bought was in 1971," recalled Rita. "It just escalated from there.
"I don’t know why he started really. We thought we would have a bar in the corner of the dining room and I said why don’t we build an extension.
"He collected cigarettes and match boxes too. It just used to look nice."
And she added: "He didn’t drink. It was a passion. He had customers who when they would go abroad they would bring something back. He had a book that listed what he had. When they went abroad they bought something back that he hadn’t got.
"He labelled them all too. He didn’t have any other hobbies and it just made the room look nice.
"He just loved it. He had a visitors book that people would sign. None of the collection was touched but people would come and have a drink if we had a party, years ago."
Mr West's fastidious approach meant all the bottles were left unopened and kept in pristine condition, with all of the them meticulously catalogued in a tiny notebook detailing the original price paid - never more than a few pounds - and date purchased.
While it was hard for the West family to sell the collection that had been so important to their late dad, they were delighted with the final result.
The most valuable bottles include a Laphroaig 10 Year Old whisky bottled in the 1970s, which sold for £2,000; a 1957 Macallan that went for £1,900; and a Caroni 90 Proof Extra Strength Navy Rum which sold for £1,800.
Individual bottles are now winging their way to collectors all over the globe, while most of the collection has been sold to a museum in Singapore, where it will be displayed together with a photograph of Mr West.
Mrs West described her late husband as an outgoing personality and a "great character" adding: "Everyone liked him. He was a marvellous father to four sons - Stephen, Tony, Richard and Jason. He was a very good bloke and he helped a lot of people."
Having started his career as a coal merchant, Mr West went on to become a Calor gas merchant, before opening a shop - EKP in Northfleet High Street - selling caravan accessories and power tools.
After moving the shop to Parrock Street with his son, he eventually stepped back from the business, but never really retired and carried on keeping the books until six weeks before his death, due to a brain tumour.
"He was always a businessman," added Rita. His mind never stopped with business.
He couldn’t ever not do anything - he always like to keep his mind going."
But she said the drinks collection was a separate part of his life.
"He knew what he paid for it and he knew it would increase in value but we didn’t expect it to be that high," she said. "He didn’t do it for that - it was just a hobby.
"When he passed away we knew it would have to go.
"It was lockdown so we couldn’t get in touch with anyone to look at it.
"It was a bit of a shock when we found out the total amount.
"I couldn’t believe it. I thought he’s left us a bit more than we expected.
"He would have been in his element if he knew that."
She said there were no specific plans for the money, but that the family planned to "enjoy it."
And no doubt they might raise a couple of glasses too.
"He had a good life," added Rita ."We all had a good life with him as well."