As the 19th century produce industry became a big interstate business, competition among growers increased. Each sought new and unique advertising gimmicks to beat out their rivals. They hired skilled lithographers to design and print vibrant crate labels. Images of bright yellow lemons and vivid red tomatoes popped off the labels, enticing customers and effectively marketing the various brands.
Before the turn of the century, stone lithography was still widely used. Artists hand-etched their graphic designs into limestone, applied ink, and then pressed the images onto heavy paper labels.
In the following century, steel and photo-offset lithography made the process easier and cheaper. By the end of the 1940s, the crate label mass marketing movement was at its peak. A lithography company might have employed a hundred artists to keep up with the demand. But only a decade later, preprinted cardboard boxes replaced wooden shipping crates, making the crate labels obsolete.
Many old crate labels still exist in collections and antique shops. The remaining examples provide a timeline of agricultural marketing over three-quarters of a century. Today referred to as “agro-lithography,” these images offer a colorful glimpse into the history and changes in American advertising during that time.
The art for these stamps was inspired by vintage shipping crate labels, seed packets, and catalogs inspired. Each stamp in the set was designed and drawn by Michael Doret.