In the 70 years between the 1880s and the 1950s, millions of colorful paper labels were used by America's fruit and vegetable growers to advertise their wooden boxes of fresh produce that was shipped throughout the nation and the world.
Collectors value crate art for its colorful design and its ability to trace the social and political history of American agriculture.
Beginning primarily in the southern regions of California, labels became an industrywide necessity to communicate the appeal of fresh produce to Eastern buyers. In the fast-paced setting of Eastern auction halls and commission markets, buyers could not see the fruit, which was individually packed in tissue paper and sealed in a wooden box. The brightly colored, attractively designed label soon became the growers' chief advertising device, the symbolic window from which the fruit could be judged.
You may purchase variously-sized giclee reproductions of Plan 39's collection of labels. Check out their closeups of the labels to appreciate the complexity of the original printing process and the wonderful use of colour found on these masterpieces of type and illustration.
(I have a modest collection of vintage food and drug labels, some of which make their way into my Eclecto paper packs, available in store or by email.)