THE CITRUS CRATE LABEL – HISTORY AND COLLECTIONS
Marketing is critical in the citrus industry, just as it is in most all business. With the introduction of cross county railroad tracks our county entered a new phase of marketing. No longer were products simply sold locally, now they could be transported more than a thousand miles in a relatively short time. Early shipments of citrus from Florida were done by ship. Fruit was packed in wood barrels with Spanish moss. This transportation method was one that required a lot of time. Lake County had river boats that serviced many towns via our lakes and the St. Johns River. This required a citrus packing facility to load fruit on horse or mule powered wagons and hauled to the closest ‘shipping location’.
It became evident that boxes of citrus needed to be identified! The packer needed let buyers know what was inside the wood box. Crate labels were used by California growers starting in the 1870’s. They were shipping fruit cross country to Eastern markets. Florida growers realized they had to follow the same method of ‘marketing’ their fruit and followed California’s model of the crate label.
The Citrus Crate Labels were glued to the end of the wooden shipping crate prior to going to market. The peak years for crate labels were between 1920 and 1950 after which time the use of cardboard shipping cartons became prevalent.
The unique artwork for the crates was drawn by popular artists of the time but not identified. Labels have many uses, including promotion and providing brand names, information on a product's origin, manufacturer, or distributor, and especially to catch the eye of the consumer.
The label provided more than just the name of the packer. The color of the label told the buyer the grade of the fruit inside. Labels with a predominate blue color indicated Grade A fruit, while those with red were Grade B. Other colors were used for mixed grades.
The story of citrus crate labels is fascinating. To learn more about these marketing billboards that are now collectors items, check out these web sites. They provide a more in-depth history and will open the door to these treasures.
University of Florida – story of citrus crate labels and the Chicone collection of 3,000 labels!
Florida Southern College web site with over 1,500 labels from collection of Jim Ellis and others
Surely you can find many more article and numerous sites selling labels. Please note that many of the labels for sale are actually copies of the labels, not the actual label. Read carefully before making a purchase. Collectors want original labels while most folks just want a beautiful piece of ‘marketing history’.