Fruit crate labels

The fruit crate label is one of the most vibrant and iconic examples of American advertising art and is closely linked to the development of lithographic printing in the United States. 
A 1920s peaches label

A 1920s peaches label

Crate labels originated in California in the late 19th century, when completion of the transcontinental railroads had made coast-to-coast shipping of fruit and vegetables possible for the first time.

Jazz Brand fruit label

Jazz Brand fruit label

As the produce was transported in wooden crates, labels were necessary to identify the contents and place of origin, as well as to attract the eye of potential buyers. In East Coast fruit markets and auctions halls these labels quickly became the growers’ most important advertising device and the more vivid and attractive the illustration, the more effective it could be.

Between the 1880s and the 1950s, millions of crate labels were produced for fruit and vegetable growers. Countless designs were printed by immigrant German lithographers who brought their skills to the United States.  As the fruit trade grew, so the fledgling lithographic industry grew with it.

Crate art reflects American social and political history through the years. Early images of luscious fruit and local orchards were replaced with illustrations encompassing nearly every theme imaginable, from the Old West, Gold Rush and dramatic landscapes to politics, music, children and beautiful women.

Crate label for Polkodot Brand citrus fruit

Crate label for Polkodot Brand citrus fruit

Paper labelling ended abruptly in the mid 1950s, when advances in packaging technology produced the more economical preprinted cardboard box. Large quantities of labels remained unused in packing sheds and printing houses, and these have formed the basis of a thriving collectors’ market. – Ken Gibb

Georgia peaches. John Johnson Shelfmark: Labels 11 (5) (ProQuest durable URL)
Jazz brand. John Johnson Shelfmark: Labels 11 (35) (ProQuest durable URL)
Polkodot brand. John Johnson Shelfmark: Labels 11 (22) (ProQuest durable URL)

Copyright  © 2009 Bodleian Library, University of Oxford. Reproduced with the permission of ProQuest. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

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One Response to Fruit crate labels

  1. robert colls says:

    ‘crate art’ – great name for a whole new way of looking at capitalism and culture; perfect minature article. thanks

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