Stamps or Labels ?

by Bonnie & Roger Riga

hosted by Rigastamps as a resource for "Cinderella" stamp collectors
What are Cinderellas?
Expanding the Definition
Poster Stamps
Stamps or Labels ?
Airmail Etiquettes
Auditor's Duck Stamp
Australasian New Hebrides Co.
Caldey Island
Catalan Separatist Stamps
Delandre Vignettes
EKKO Stamps
France - Boulanger Fantasies
Hotel Sherman Stamps
Mexico's Madero Issue
Newfoundland ''Essay''
Robert Burns
Topical Revenues
UNESCO Gift Stamps
Welsh Patagonia
WWII Free Franks


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 1985.

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 nicely.

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


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