The Florida Citrus Label Collection consists of more than 200 labels acquired from a variety of sources and represents growers from Lakeland, the rest of Polk County, and the rest of the state. The labels depicted in this exhibit represent a small sample, drawn more or less equally from Lakeland, the rest of Polk County, and other areas of Florida, of a colorful (in every sense of the word) period in the history of the Florida citrus industry.
The citrus labels evoke memories of a simpler time when desk top publishing capabilities did not exist and people took the time to design and print the colorful labels which adorned citrus shipping crates. Crate labels probably originated in California in the late 1880's. They were affixed to the wooden crates which were used to ship citrus, as well as other fruits and vegetables. The crate labels remained in common usage until shortages of wood brought about by World War II resulted in a shift to cardboard boxes with pre-printed labels.
The citrus labels were always colorful and often humorous. Growers in certain areas of Florida frequently used the labels to promote a particular theme or to identify their products with a particular concept. The Lake Wales Citrus Growers Association almost always used royalty as a theme with such labels as "Royal Guard," "Prince of Wales," and "Crown Jewel." Indian River growers often depicted Native Americans on their labels, while other growers used birds (Blue Heron) or flowers (Tiger Rose) on all their labels.
All of the Florida citrus labels were registered with the Florida Department of Agriculture and their fanciful names and vivid colors had meaning to those who bought and sold the products. The color on the label or in the name indicated the grade of the fruit. Blue was grade A, red was grade B, and green, grade C. The "Auk" label depicted above, for example, would have been affixed to a crate carrying grade A fruit because blue is the dominant color in the label
For more information about the history and use of citrus labels in Florida, see Florida Citrus Crate Labels: an Illustrated History (ISBN: 0964928205) by Jerry Chicone and Brenda Burnette.