Banana label collectors were on target
Last time we discussed the topic of Poster stamps and their strong graphic appeal. A
close relative to the graphics of the poster stamp is the label - the gorgeous label from
the Hawaiian Islands or the little hotel in Italy, the label from an especially attractive
product from the pantry. You can see where we're going, but first a short tangential
discussion of the term "label".
When is it proper to call something a label? Some would say that anything stamp-like
not designed to be postage or revenue is a label, not a stamp. We are of the firm
conviction that the world of stamps includes much that isn't postage or revenue. Poster
stamps are indeed stamps. A label is generally not a stamp, but an information bearing
piece of paper attached to an item, such as a trunk, product, parcel or even a letter. Our
definition of label also notes that it is usually imperforate or die-cut. It is primarily
informative, indicating such things as contents, source, destination or instructions.
Of the many types of labels, perhaps the most attractive and most collected are the
baggage labels. The well-traveled steamer trunk sporting a dazzling collage of baggage
labels that collectors would and do pay a small fortune for, is the centerpiece of many a
decorator's dreams. What began as simple informative pieces of paper attached to luggage
to inform handlers of a destination or other instructions, soon evolved into advertising
works of art. It became the fashion to cover the luggage with colorful labels that
announced to the world where one had been without the need to brag, and soon hotels,
merchants and attractions joined in the parade.
Transportation companies created small works of art to advertize themselves. One can
collect labels from the great railroads of the past, the legendary cruise ships, and even
bus companies. Certainly some of the most sought after labels came from airlines and were
available from very early in the industry. Many aerophilatilists are also collectors of
the labels of the early air carriers. Since the transportation companies, particularly air
and rail, were and are closely related to the movement of the mails, the labels of these
companies are collected as collateral material as well. A multi-volume catalog documents
the air labels, each volume covering a particular country or area (Europe, Africa, etc.).
It is the Air Transport Label Catalog, produced by The Aeronautica and Air Label
Collectors Club and the Aerophilatelic Federation of the Americas, and was last updated in
Closely related to the transportation labels are the other travel-related labels.
Hotels are a particularly colorful and extensive area of labels as are the event labels,
publicizing such things as the World's Fairs or Olympic games. Event labels are often
larger versions of the poster stamps of the same event and a collection of one would
usually include the other. Certainly the main purpose of these labels was to advertize the
companies, places or events and especially to promote the glamor of travel
Similar in nature and purpose is the product label. It is much less collected by stamp
people and more often as a part of the antiques and ephemera world. Product labels can be
the ever popular fruit and vegetable crate labels of past generations or food product
labels of other sorts. Matchbox labels and cigar bands are often found in cinderella
accumulations and have many avid collectors, particularly in Europe. Matchbox labels are
of a similar size and character to many poster stamps and are sometimes easily confused
with them. They are, however, virtually never perforated nor gummed. These labels are a
fruitful source of topical motifs.
Many product labels are collected as collateral to revenue stamps for taxed products,
such as wine labels and wine tax stamps. A real crossover in this area is the beer and
liquor labels which bear "Tax paid" notations and thus are a form of revenue
stamp in and of themselves. Japan taxed silk worm eggs and a collateral collectible is the
silk product labels, which show up in vitually every revenue collection of Japanese
material. Cigar box labels, cigar bands and cigar revenue and taxpaid stamps can also be
linked as a collectible.
Another whole area of labels (and highly collectible by philatelists) is the shipping
and mailing label category. This includes the return address labels of many businesses,
including stamp people, the printed to private order mailing labels of Austria and Great
Britain, air mail etiquettes, registry labels and other postal ephemera. We will devote
another column to that whole world at some future date.
As should be obvious, this is a wide and varied area of collecting and can be as
far-ranging or as focussed as you desire. Collect one area, collect many. Collect one
product, one country, one company, one time period. There is very little literature to
guide you in this area, at least in the philatelic marketplace. But this is history in one
of its many forms. Even if you are not ready to embark upon a major new collecting area,
you may still find that the addition of a piece or two of this material to your current
collection - as a frontpiece to the album or as a collateral item - will spice it up
Nostalgia plays a major part in the collection of many of these labels, but not all.
Air transport labels continue to the present day, although most are now in a self-adhesive
form. Many labels have migrated to this form and are somewhat harder to collect because of
the self destructive nature of many of the adhesives.. But don't let that prevent you -
today's self-adhesive sticker-type label is tomorrow's collectible. A salute and tip of
our hat to those far-sighted collector's of banana labels, which have all the intricacies
of stamp collecting - serial numbers, definitives, commemoratives and all the rest.
This column first appeared in Stamp Collector and
has been edited for online presentation. This page was last updated June 02, 2005