Look at the images above. They’re beautiful, aren’t they?
These images are all fruit crate labels, all made during the golden age of illustration, between 100 and 140 years ago. So this will serve as a history lesson of sorts.
During the last twenty years of the 19th century, America was beginning to perfect the marketing of fruits and vegetables, especially to areas of the country where they were hard to get. Small canneries and growers in California and Florida began to merge into associations and getting agreements with the transcontinental railways to ship their goods across the country.
All the crates holding the veggies and fruits had labels like these. And they were printed using color lithography, still in its relatively primitive stages. Color labels were expensive and because of that, they were used over and over again. A crate in good condition with a label was nothing to be discarded.
By the end of the Great War, printing technology became much more advanced and mechanized, allowing the printers to gang the images and save the associations a lot of money per label cost.
As the systems of getting the crates to the markets evolved, so did the businesses grow. Associations became corporations. For example, the California Fruit Canners Association eventually became Del Monte.
Then during the Great Depression, consumers began to want more information about what they were buying and had more health concerns about the food. With the government stepping in with regulations and listing nutritional values, the art suffered, producing a somewhat less artistic image.
Adding to that, offset printing came of age in the 40s and label manufacturers were now using photography, replacing the illustrator.
The rest is history (I hate saying that) because all that stuff you just read also applied to every other area of printed advertising and package artwork.
Art will always be art. But will it ever have the use like what we see here? No. Not on this planet.
Can you imagine what it must’ve been like back then? A century ago, those illustrators did the entire images you see here, lettering included. He was also the art director.