Central Florida Ag News November 2011 Edition: Web Exclusive
This article is an excerpt from Burnette's article, "Citrus Labels: Florida's First Billboards"The major printer of lithographic labels in Florida was the Florida Grower Press in Tampa. Originally the Florida Grower Magazine, they started printing labels in an attempt to fill press time between magazine runs. Eventually, Florida Grower Press ended up printing over 70% of all of the labels registered under the Florida Citrus Exchange (now known as Seald-Sweet) and approximately 90% of all of the vegetable labels used in Florida. Much of the artwork was done by the popular artists of the time, but since it was considered commercial work, none were ever signed. Artists included Clarence Hornbeck, Ed Botts, Karl Wagner, Elie Chevrelenge (who was also an artist for National Geographic), Harry Buice (who created the Valencia Gardens murals) and Norman Bowman, to name a few. Their images resulted in chronicling the ever-changing styles of the times and giving us a colorful snapshot of Florida marketing history.
Another major printer was the I.P.C. Dennison Company, which began as the International Playing Card Company in 1929 to manufacture playing cards. As the demand for playing cards diminished, the production of labels for food and tobacco products began. In 1930, the name was changed to the International Playing Card & Label Company and production shifted exclusively to label printing. They were one of the largest independently owned label printers in the country for a number of years, until they merged with Dennison Manufacturing Company in 1977. Also known as the Rogersville Card and Label Company Collection, the labels range primarily from the years 1929 to 1978 and can be seen at the Archives of Appalachia in Rogersville, Tennessee.
Florida labels were predominantly either 9" x 9" in size, or 5" x 5" for a 2/5 bushel box, with a strip label for tangerines, whereas California and Texas labels were larger due to the use of a different sized box. Vegetable & fruit labels tended to be more rectangular in shape. The labels were normally printed in a four-color process using light blue, yellow, red and dark blue. The labels themselves were pasted on the ends of either railed wooden boxes or wire-bound boxes in preparation for the trip north. People often confuse these crates with field boxes, which were only used to harvest the fruit in the grove and bring it to the packing house. In fact, the first Florida orange crates were said to have been put together by Captain James McMullen, of Pinellas County, who had workers split 3-foot boards and tie them together with palmetto stems!
After leaving the packing house, the fruit would be transported by either steamship or train (or both) to the major auction centers in the Northeast, which were primarily New York and Chicago. Once in the auction warehouses, the crates would be stacked high with the labels showing outwards. This was done in an attempt to catch the eyes of the auction brokers who bought the fruit for resale. At that time, fruit was sold in the early morning hours in large warehouses located next to the railroad yards, so lighting tended to be rather dim. Since most, if not all, of the buyers were male, the images on the labels ran the gamut - from "Rags," the dog, to the risque "Nudist" - as the different packing houses vied for the buyers' attention.