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Citrus Crate Labels

This original art form began with the shipping of citrus fruit from California to the rest of the United States. And Florida followed suit. During the whole period 1885-1955, the wooden crates bore colorful labels with brand names, information on the place of origin and the fruit grade. Such printed paper vignettes—and there were subvarieties for lemons, oranges, grapefruit, etc.—have become collectors’ items. There is a whole cottage industry trading these artifacts. They are wonderful pieces of Americana, wonderful because many are artistically valuable, besides providing the social historian with interesting documentation.

Crate labels, as an art form, are a honest commercial art. It is honest in that it did not offer itself as investment for the wealthy. It did not pose as art, even though it sought to communicate its message effectively and attractively. It belongs with other forms of American folk art of the twentieth century such as, to quote just a few, baseball cards, billboards, cartoons such as Peanuts, playing cards, cookie shapes and mail order catalogs.

The article will outline the history of these citrus labels. How did citrus labels achieve their main aim, of becoming memorable? Repetition was a means to try and instill brand loyalty in the jobber. The paper will introduce a typology for the style of these images: crate labels are heavily self-referential. And the text will address the sociological side, crate label art shows us Americanization at work.