Nothing says California more than a vintage fruit crate label. You’ve seen them: brightly-colored vistas of impossibly fertile landscapes, gorgeous fruit, brilliant sunshine, stunning beauty. And pretty senoritas and giant aircraft and beautiful valleys and mountains. All that.
The old fruit labels were California to the people in the East. When Dad brought home a crate of oranges in the dead of winter, the labels told the story of the magic land that brithed those glowing spheres of bounty whose juice trickled down the throat like the elixir of life. Here’s one of my favorites.
There it is! Sunkist California! The land where dreams come true! The land of bounty! People still love that imagery today. I certainly do.
And so did Michael Reinhold, whose t-shirt you see at the top of this post. The design hews to that of the classic citrus crate label. And maybe the t-shirt lacks the delerious brightness of the crate labels. The old-school lithographers who made those labels knew their stuff. But it’s still a hell of a tee
Reinhold was an East Coast surfer dude of good background who followed the dream. He came out to California, and glued himself to it. He started his own lemon ranch in the hills above Santa Cruz.
Okay, it was 300 trees on four acres, and his house, and some avocados. But for himself, he made the dream happen. On boxes, labels, and some lovely t-shirts.
Fruit-crate imagery will never die out here. It’s about being the land of dreams, of possibility, of bounty. Life is harder now, but we still like to think of ourselves that way: the place where people can thrive and where dreams come true.
Some of the old fruit crate labels sported aircraft and ships and symbols progress — even when the were selling lemons.. (See the lovely Sea Cured crate label label at right.) Some of today’s growers still use them: if not on crate labels, on their marketing materials and of course on t-shirts. (See the Rocket Farms tee further down.)
T-shirts take the crate-label dream one step farther: Look at the label, and you see the rdeam. But wear the label on a tee, and you become the dream. You embody it to everyone who sees you. That’s the power of the tee, as I am perhaps too fond of saying.
It began when the new railroads allowed its growers to market fresh fruit to the East Coast. Fruit crates labels on those sturdy wooden shipping crates were part of the marketing. The “Diving Girl” apple label father down the page came from ten miles down the road from where I live — eighty years ago.
Let’s analyze that word: bounty. California has produced it in many forms. A hundred years ago, California’s bounty was fruit, most notably citrus but also apples and pears and other produce. True bounty is endless; and to its customers in the east, the stream of goodness from California seemed like it would never end.
And it never has. But bounty changed. Forty years ago, bounty began coming in the form of personal computers. They bestowed to individuals the power to make their own dreams real, all courtesy of the sun-drenched office parks of Cupertino and a company named after fruit — of course.
California’s latest bounty can be found in the beverage aisle of your local supermarket. Take a look at the glowing artwork on the beer bottles and beer cartons .
California is the cradle of the new craft beer industry. And so there is a new dream to sell with images and ideas: clean water and pure ingredients and creativity and ingenuity and opportunity, and the beer which issues forthwith.
Again, the word is bounty. And of course there are t-shirts from many of California’s hundred-plus brewers, so that the dream can be worn and personified by those who dream it, and drink it. Here are some fine tees from craft breweries and brewpubs throughout California and the West.
And it all started with an advertising campaign, 130 years ago. And with ingenuity and skill: the master lithographers of San Francisco and Los Angeles, immigrants all, birthed the beautiful, color-drenched labels which became symbols of health and wealth, which began a dream of bounty that still lives. Here in California, and everywhere where California is known.
Once on labels, now on t-shirts and who knows, someday written in the sky. May the dream never die.