Friday, April 2, 2010

Crate Art

I recently discovered crate art, labels that growers affixed to produce boxes from the late 19th century until the 1960s. As distribution went nationwide, wholesalers and later the government needed to track the origin of fruits and vegetables. What started as a practical necessity turned into an art form, with intricate, colorful, eye-catching lithographs of perfect produce and perfectly fruited plains.

I love these labels because in contrast to most food marketing today, which almost always hawks highly processed products, they aim to make simple, unprocessed fruits and vegetables desirable, delectable, exotic, even sexy.

Crate labels all but disappeared in the 1960s as growers moved from crates to boxes and more practical if less aesthetically pleasing methods of tracking produce developed.

Here and here are websites that sell antique produce labels. Take a browse. They are fascinating. Some examples:

I have a weakness for labels from Redlands, California because my great grandparents lived there:

Inevitably, America's history of racism is reflected in label art, ranging from mildly politically incorrect . . .

to outright racist.

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