Fruit label swap to bring together collectors and history buffs in Yakima

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YAKIMA HERALD-REPUBLIC – TAMMY AYER – YAKIMA — Produce labels identify and advertise. They feature original art and hint at history. Sometimes, it’s personal history.

Walter Lindsey, an apple crate label hobbyist and collector who is one of the Yakima Valley Museum‘s label curators, showed off a particularly rare acquisition — a West Valley Apples label from Grover Marley’s G.M. Orchards in Yakima. He first saw it on Craigslist, still affixed to its wooden box.

“Here’s one I found in Chicago a couple years ago. We didn’t even know it existed. The family didn’t know,” Lindsey said of G.M. Orchards. Lindsey learned after some research that Marley was from the Wenatchee area and moved to the Valley to start his own orchard and packing business.

“It’s like anything else — it’s always the hunt,” added Lindsey, whose personal collection includes around 2,400 labels.

On Saturday, fans and collectors can add to or possibly pare their collections, ask questions of more than a dozen dealers and other experts or just admire the artwork at the 34th annual Fruit Label Swap Meet. It takes place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the museum in Yakima and event admission is free.

“We will have a lot of very knowledgeable people there,” Lindsey said. “If you happen to find a family label there, there’s plenty of people who know about the labels.”

Produce labels are an integral part of the Valley’s rich agricultural history. West Coast growers began using labels in the early 1900s to promote produce from the region. The museum has an impressive collection of about 4,000 vintage produce labels, and longtime museum director John A. Baule created another exhaustive resource in writing ”The Ultimate Fruit Label Book.”

“No one really knows an exact number” of how many labels were created for Valley farmers, “but for apple labels, we believe there are upward of 6,000,” Lindsey said.

It’s fascinating to see the variety of images used to market Valley produce, mostly apples. They range from stern Vikings to adorable kids, familiar pets to exotic creatures, Mount Adams and picturesque buildings like the tall stone tower of Congdon castle in Yakima, featured on a Congdon Orchards label. An original version of this rare label would probably sell for around $600, Lindsey said. Congdon is one of the oldest continuously operating fruit ranches in the state.

A Terrace Heights label

Lindsey visited Margaret Keys, whose family was among Valley pioneers, for information about a label from Terrace Heights Fruit Growers Inc., which was founded around 1926 and in business for only a few years.

“We didn’t know about it until a couple years ago, when we stumbled across it,” Lindsey said of the label, which is part of a collection the museum is holding.

Keys, who died in December 2016 at age 105, pointed toward the railroad tracks and warehouses near her longtime Terrace Heights home to help identify the possible location of the packer. Keys thought the Terrace Heights Fruit Growers Inc. warehouse was in that area, Lindsey recalled, and she added information about her sister Clara, who was an apple packer.

For years, people packed fruit in orchards or packing sheds and delivered the wooden boxes to Fruit Row in Yakima. Companies would store, ship and sell them, affixing labels shortly before they went on rail cars. One worker would put glue on the box end; another would affix the label. “It was always at the point of shipment,” Lindsey said.

Other labels

Some apple labels such as the Richey & Gilbert Co. Mascot Brand and the Garretson family’s Moon Brand, which is immortalized in a large mosaic mural in Tieton, were redesigned several times. Others, like the Purple Cow label that shows a nursing calf, were quashed soon after their debut. At the time, some did not approve of such an image, Lindsey noted.

Along with the history of produce labels and the families who used them, Lindsey is fascinated by the graphics produced by printing companies such as the Ridgway Lithograph Company of Seattle. Lindsey, who worked in the print shop at Shields Bag and Printing in Yakima and has been fascinated by the printing business since he was a kid, said graphics add even more to their stories.

“These labels all mean something,” he said.

Posted by: TAMMY AYER Yakima Herald-Republic, May 14, 2019

Picture: Vintage Keller Fruit and Cold Storage Label (Submitted to Yakima Herald Republic)