Produce Crate Labels: vivid art from a bygone era
February 7, 2012 11:52 AM   Subscribe

With the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, produce could travel all over the United States with ease. To stand out from competitors, farmers shifted from stencil-marked crates to vivid crate labels, which were largely replaced by lower-cost cardboard boxes in the 1950s and 60s, allowing images to be printed right onto the boxes. These vivid bits of history are now bought, sold, and traded by collectors (related gallery). Blue Sky Search and California Bountiful have articles on the rise and fall of produce labels, and the subsequent collection of these art pieces. Boston Public Library has a high-quality, larger format Flickr gallery, but the collection is limited. Pat Jacob's Fruit Crate Labels has a collection of small images and a lot of information for collectors, and Crate Label Museum has an extensive collection, though the images are smaller than those in the Boston Public Library's collection.
posted by filthy light thief (19 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Gotta love them Bimbo Melons
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 12:21 PM on February 7, 2012

The powder room in my house is decorated with fruit labels I bought from They're surprisingly cheap if you just want something pretty and don't care about rarity, like $10–$20. It's a bit more if you want something unusual, but still cheaper than the frame you'll put it in.

There must be stacks and stacks of extra printed labels out there from the 1930s. I've bought labels from Paper Stuff off and on for ten years now.
posted by Nelson at 12:48 PM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

All kinds of teh awesome. Wonderful post.
posted by Melismata at 12:52 PM on February 7, 2012

posted by Jumpin Jack Flash at 12:55 PM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

posted by modernserf at 1:06 PM on February 7, 2012

The Los Angeles Public Library also maintains a lovely collection of produce crate barrels from Southern California.
posted by hwyengr at 1:07 PM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Crate labels, dammit. The Crate and Barrel catalog came yesterday...
posted by hwyengr at 1:08 PM on February 7, 2012

Great find.

During my brief restaurant and hotel career in the 1970s, I was often amused by the fanciful brand names given to wholesale produce. The only one I can recall off the top of my head now is "I'm Asleep!" which I think was iceberg lettuce.

I'll be looking through these for familar labels from my youth, from which I thankfully escaped mostly unscathed, despite the best efforts of the Hobart Corporation.
posted by Herodios at 1:14 PM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I went to college in the city of Redlands, which is strongly associated with the old orange industry and had a number of orange groves and companies. In fact, the university still has an orange grove on campus (more for decoration than purpose these days). If you take a drive about ten minutes outside of town, you'll go through some of the remaining groves with their smudge pots to get to The Green Spot.

Pomona Public Library has a collection of Redlands Mutual Orange Company labels, among others. In fact, not only does Pomona Public Library have Redlands orange labels, it has an entire digital collection of labels plus a collection of photos of the orange industry itself.

In my mind, produce crate labels have always been strongly associated with Southern California citrus producers. How interesting to learn that the labels were used for all kinds of produce!
posted by librarylis at 1:42 PM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thanks for all these additional sites. If you're interested in knowing more, there are at least a few books on the topic. I've seen none in person, but apparently the guy selling them on the linked site lives not far from me. I'm tempted to give him a call and browse through his collection. His prices are a lot cheaper than Paperstuff and other sellers listed on Berkeley City College's page on Crate Art (which has more information, to boot), but there are only text descriptions of the labels.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:12 PM on February 7, 2012

quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon: "...or not."

An original Gay Johnny label is framed in our kitchen. And it is beloved. Though more of the 'real thing' is expensive enough to be prohibitive, finding places that sell reproductions that are, though not cheap, less prohibitive wouldn't do my checkbook any favors. So thanks for this awesome post -- but I'm going to try to pretend I never saw it (and certainly not going to add it to the "things I saw on Metafilter" review I occasionally do post-work with my partner.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 2:27 PM on February 7, 2012

Nowadays, they just label the boxes the orange juice comes in....
posted by pjern at 3:26 PM on February 7, 2012

Gone with the hogshead, cask, and demijohn
Gone with the sugar barrel, pickle barrel, milk pan
Gone with the tub and the pail and the tierce.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:02 PM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Waddya talk?
Waddya talk?
Waddya talk?
Waddya talk?

You just gotta know the territory!
posted by Herodios at 4:10 PM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

The clip-art collection I bought quite a while ago has a bunch of produce labels in it. I've been modifying them and using them for mixtape CD covers for years. Beautiful artwork.
posted by hippybear at 5:21 PM on February 7, 2012

Plan 59 also sells archival prints.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 6:29 AM on February 8, 2012

Another Flickr gallery.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:24 AM on February 8, 2012

Plan 59 also sells archival prints.

Read that again, it was worded carefully to avoid making that claim. They're inkjet prints on archival paper. That does not mean it's an archival print.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:40 PM on February 8, 2012

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