When Were Fruit Crate Labels Used?
Up until produce distributors began using pre-printed cardboard boxes in the 1950s, wooden crates with brightly colored labels slapped on the ends were the norm for transporting fresh produce to markets across the country. In fact, this method of packaging was popular from the mid-1880s through the first half of the 20th century.
These clever stickers were affixed to the ends of otherwise identical wooden boxes to distinguish one growers produce from another, providing an easily recognizable advantage in the wholesale marketplace. The brand names used were often comprised of puns unique to each grower. Or, vivid images of the region where the produce was grown might be incorporated into the design.
In some cases, certain background colors were used to indicate the produce grade. This early form of what modern advertisers refer to as “branding” extended to vegetable growers as well, but by and large collectors refer to all produce examples fruit crate labels.
The Artistry of Fruit Crate Labels
The best label printing houses early on were located in San Francisco, Calif. They would usually have a staff of talented artists on hand to incorporate the themes growers favored to represent their produce. The coastal beauty of California was often incorporated into labels, which included palm trees, flowers, landscapes and seaside imagery. Some growers would also request that their favorite animal or even their children be featured in label designs. But
Art with a pin-up quality incorporating provocatively clad ladies in poses exuding sex appeal was popular during the 1940s. These types of illustrations, along with those featuring cowboys and Indians, are highly sought by today’s label collectors. During this period offset printing allowed photographs to be used on labels reducing the cost and changing the overall way the labels looked. They are creative and attractive, no doubt, but generally lack some of the artistry of pre-1940 labels when they were hand drawn.
While most of the original labels collected now are purchased loose or attractively framed, shoppers will occasionally run across a wooden crate with a label still attached. Or, they’ll discover the end of a crate still brandishing a label in a flea market stall. These are considered collectible as well and can be displayed in a number of unique ways.
The Price and Availability of Original Crate Labels
Fans of crate labels will find them used to decorate everything from fabric to posters in retail shops as well. The funny thing is, a few yards of fabric or a reproduction poster is likely to cost more than an original label. Even some of the popular cowboy and pin-up labels can be purchased online for less than $10 each, and they aren’t much higher at shows. Other themes featuring sports, animals and even Black Americana can also be quite affordable and even less expensive. These are usually labels that were printed from the 1940s onward.
That’s not always the case though, unused labels considered rare by collectors like a Mission Bridge orange crate label or an Aristocrat lemon crate labels from the 1920s or ‘30s might easily sell for $300-450 or more. If you run across a stack of crate labels, checking each one for its respective value is wise since they can vary so widely.
So how do all those original unused labels enter the collectibles marketplace?
Since thousands of different designs were used on literally millions of wooden crates way back when, it’s safe to say there were a few left over here and there. Most of them have been discovered lying unused in old packing house storerooms, but others come from box company inventories, salesman samples and collections the families of growers or fruit company workers saved long ago. These labels, some which are very rare, have made their way into the marketplace to be gobbled up by collectors hungry for a delectable slice of colorful Americana.
More Articles About Advertising Collectibles: