Fruit Crate Labels – A Blend of History and Art

Fruit Crate Labels – A Blend of History and Art
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In the 1880s the advent of the Southern Pacific and other railroads gave farmers the opportunity to ship their produce to distant markets. The produce was packed in wooden crates and a method was needed to identify the type of fruit or vegetable as well as the producer. Paper crate labels, glued to the end of each crate solved this problem.

As markets grew, producers soon realized that wholesalers would bid on large batches of produce, almost sight unseen. In addition to providing identifying information, crate labels became advertising for the produce. Designs were created using bright colors showing pastoral landscapes and orchards or healthy people enjoying life by eating the fruits or vegetables. The designs were directed at both the wholesale buyers as well as the neighborhood markets where the produce would be displayed for customers.

The use of crate labels began in Southern California where lemons and oranges were shipped across the United States, but soon the labels were being used worldwide. Nearly every agricultural area in the world, especially Europe and South America had their own designs. As rail transportation became more efficient and refrigeration became available, many other types of perishable produce were shipped long distances and new labels were crated for those products.

The labels were printed on durable paper. Produce would be shipped, sometimes thousands of miles, and it was important that the labels survived undamaged. The labels also needed to be bright and colorful, often using striking and original color schemes. This required running the labels through the printing process many times to achieve the correct colors and brightness. The durability of the paper and quality of the printing are the main reasons so many crate labels remain in excellent condition today.

Early crate labels tended to feature "naturalistic" topics – things such as landmarks, flowers, fruit and landscapes. As oranges and lemons from Southern California were the most commonly shipped produce, the labels often displayed images of citrus orchards or sunny landscapes. A few decades later, in the 1920s and 1930s, labels were likely to feature the health benefits of eating fresh fruit and vegetables. This reflected the growing concern with health and diet. From the late 1930s to the 1950s, designers focused on brand recognition, creating many bold and memorable designs.

Cardboard boxes were introduced in the mid 1950s and replaced wooden crates. This signaled the end of most crate labels. Cardboard boxes were cheaper, lighter and companies could print their logo and information directly one the box, removing the necessity for separate labels. The change to cardboard boxes was swift, and many crate labels were left unused. Some were discarded, but many ended up gathering dust in back rooms and storage areas.

Although a few people have collected crate labels since they were introduced over a century ago, they did not become popular collector's items until the mid 1970s. It was around this time that collectors realized that high quality art was to be found on old labels. They started searching warehouses and packing houses for old stocks of unused crate labels, often finding large quantities that had been stored for years. These finds are the main source of the crate labels that are on the market today.



Source by Dan S. Hood

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