Historic labels sold oranges -- and the California lifestyle
Packinghouses often created three different labels: one for high-grade fruit, one for mid-grade and one for the bottom of the barrel — citrus that was small, poorly textured or off-color. The fruit in this last category didn't necessarily taste bad, but it looked bad. Growers sometimes chose scruffy dogs or ugly old ladies to represent these grades. One Villa Park brand, "Camouflage," carried the slogan: "The Quality is Inside." Another brand, "Mutt," proclaimed: "Not much for looks, but ripe, sweet & juicy."
Label art generally falls into three basic design eras, according to Gordon McClelland, author of "California Orange Box Labels." Those are "Naturalistic," from about 1885-1915; "Advertising," from 1915-35; and "Commercial Art," from 1935-55. The early style often depicted awe-inspiring Southern California scenes such as snow-capped mountains, pristine citrus groves and broad beaches dotted with sun umbrellas. Others reflected the area's Mexican and Spanish heritage, depicting cowboys, Indians and California missions.
Even back then, advertisers knew that sex sells. "Some labels showed pictures of women that bordered on being racy," Spellman said. The Siren brand from Borden Fruit Co. in Anaheim showed a sultry blond with a low-cut neckline and gaudy gold necklace. The Tesoro label from Bradford Bros Inc. in Placentia depicted a skimpily clad pirate babe.
Photos: California Heritage Museum