Orange Crate Art – Some History

The western United States experienced nearly seventy-five years (beginning around 1880) of competition among fruit growers to create beautiful, artistic and eye-catching paper labels. They used these to identify their fruit boxes. It was a colorful history of the early advertising and marketing of the products they produced. This was advertising, not only for citrus, but also vegetables and other fruits that were shipped in the wooden crates that were common at the time.

Much of the artwork was considered commercial work which was done by popular artists of the time. However, because of this, they were never signed. All of the labels were registered with the Department of Agriculture, and they informed the buyer of the brand name and also what grade of fruit they were purchasing.

There were three styles of crate labels. They were Naturalism (1885-1920), Advertising (1920-1935) and Commercial Art (1935-1955).

The Naturalism style was similar to the American popular art of the time with subjects such as scenery, portraits, flowers, birds and animals. The labels were not designed to promote and advertise the produce but were an attractive and memorable image for the wholesale buyer. They focused on California scenery . . . coastal images, mountain ranges, orange groves and towns. They were illustrated with such accuracy that specific landscapes, groves and towns could be identified from the crate label images.

The Advertising style reflected the competition that existed in the market and the use of advertising. The advertising style labels had clear, simple images, strong titles and messages. The overall effect was considered more important than the detail of the label. They were designed to be viewed from a distance while clearly communicating the contents of the crate.

In the Commercial art labels, the emphasis was on the brand name as the subject. Three-dimensional block letters, airbrushed drop shadows and sloped or curved letters were used across a label to create a dramatic effect. An image of the product might be incorporated into the label design for greater identification.

Shortly after World War II, the shortage of wood and metal brought about the invention of cardboard boxes with pre-printed brand names. This replaced the traditional wooden box for packing purposes and the end for citrus crate labels. The paper labels were destroyed or consigned to storage areas and were just recently discovered. Many of the old packinghouses are no longer in business today.

This art form is a notable part of our art history and is enjoying a revival.

Serenity Stitchworks has examples of Orange Crate Art in its design catalog.

Distinctive Orange Crate Art -

Distinctive Orange Crate Art

Distinctive Orange Crate Art

Mirth Orange Crate Art -

Mirth Orange Crate Art Cross Stitch Design

Mirth Orange Crate Art Cross Stitch Design

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