Historic California Citrus Crate Labels Are Collectors’ Items
“Come to Los Angeles. The sun shines bright, the beaches are wide and inviting, and the orange groves stretch as far as the eye can see.” ---L.A. Confidential, 1997.
Winter is the time to enjoy California fresh citrus in all its delicious glory. Everything from tiny kumquats to big pomelos is available. Lemons, limes, oranges (cara cara, navel, blood), and grapefruit are here through late spring.
California used to be known for its acres and acres of oranges and other citrus in years gone by. Though not in the same quantity, there are still orchards today filled with citrus trees of all kinds. The selection of citrus has expanded with new and interesting boutique varieties that you can find at your farmers’ market.
California used citrus crate labels for their vast amount of fruit. Before produce growers and distributors started using cardboard or plastic boxes to ship their goods to market in the 1960’s, fruits and vegetables were shipped in wooden crates.
Growers first started using fruit and vegetable crate labels in the late 19th century. The contents were identified with beautifully designed and brightly colored paper labels that were pasted to the ends of each crate, listing the type of produce, the place of origin, and the packer’s name. These were shipped all over the nation for nearly 70 years.
Sadly, little is known about the artists who produced the enticing, vividly colored images for the labels that graced fruit and produce crates. Labels were designed to appeal to the senses, conveying health, freshness, and flavor. But in the late 1950’s labels were no longer used because the information was printed directly onto the cardboard box.
Now, original crate labels are coveted by collectors. The abrupt change to pre-printed, cardboard boxes for packing fruit resulted in a surplus of unused labels. They were forgotten and abandoned in packing sheds, fruit grower’s collections, and printer’s files. Over many years, collectors have gathered the labels that still exist today.
If you want to own a piece of California’s vast agricultural history, start a collection of interesting and beautiful citrus crate labels. Some can be purchase for as little as a few dollars.
Don’t forget to stop by your farmers’ market and pick up winter citrus. Keep California’s historic citrus industry going!