During the 1970s and 1980s – the height of collecting – the most unusual items such as matchbooks, Fiestaware, anything Coca Cola, and images of silent movie stars were sought. From this, one of the most interesting categories emerged: advertising art.
Before 1950, because there was no television, the only way manufacturers could visually communicate the benefits of their product was in print, be it newspapers, magazines, posters or signs. Advertising art became an art form in itself.
Today, very little hand-painted or drawn art is used, as photo technology is so high-tech that most any method and trickery can be employed by producers to grab attention.
Walking down the aisle of a food supermarket or chain drugstore, you will note products are quite mundanely identified with possible color or recognized trademarks to separate them from competitors. Really, they are not very pleasing to the eye.
Enter the very rewarding collectible of advertising art. Many companies employed large staffs of artists to dream up attention-getting graphics. During the early 1900s, color came onto the scene and wonderful graphics and icons were created, such as Coca Cola ladies, the Fisk Tire Boy in his footed pajamas, the Morton Salt girl with the umbrella, and others.
One of the most interesting forms of art would be product labels – so much so that a sub-category of collecting started on the West Coast with fruit crate labels. Orchards and groves would want their fruits identified with all kinds of attractive graphics, such as trains, ships, beautiful women, children and landscapes. These labels were produced in the thousands, using the stone lithography method.
Later, when offset printing came into being in the late 1930s, the early labels became nearly extinct. The only examples had to come from overruns or company files. Thus, rarity and collectability.
Offset labels can still be purchased for a dollar or two, while good early labels can demand as high as thousands. The hobby quickly spread to the East Coast because of the investment possibilities.
Collecting early labels is both challenging and fun and can be very rewarding. For more information, search online for “fruit crate labels.”
It’s a whole new world in collecting.
Jerry Glenn is co-owner of Reminisce in Bluffton, where sports collectibles are bought and sold.