Santa Paula Times

Wide-ranging presentation on citrus labels a natural for Santa Paula Rotary

March 18, 2009
Santa Paula News

Citrus labels as agricultural history and art was a natural program recently for the Santa Paula Rotary Club, where Jim Campos of Summerland spoke on the subject.

By Peggy KellySanta Paula TimesCitrus labels as agricultural history and art was a natural program recently for the Santa Paula Rotary Club, where Jim Campos of Summerland spoke on the subject. Past Rotary President Nils Rueckert said Campos, a resident of Summerland, is a member of the Citrus Label Society who has an “extensive collection and is quite knowledgeable about their history.”Rueckert noted Santa Paula has “been home to a number of citrus packing houses over the years.” And many Rotarians have their own collections of and favorite labels, many from family businesses.A collector for 34 years, Campos, a retired educator (honored in 2006 as the Santa Barbara County Educator of the Year) and writer, noted he was pleased to be “here in one of the great citrus growing regions in the world” and the origin of many labels that are now collector items. During the Great Depression, labels such as the Santa Paula Orange Association carried subtle messages of hope and encouragement, such as “Endurance, Strength, Stalwart.”In the 1880s through the 1890s, railway fare was cheap, $1 fare for a one-way ticket from the East to California. Eventually citrus labels were not only a way to proudly display brand names and images, but also acted as mini-posters to attract Eastern visitors to the Sunshine State.The “Mupu label is quite rare,” as is the Teague-McKevett brand label, but Campos said the “Holy Grail is the one featuring Uncle Sam” proclaiming “I grow these myself in California.” The label sells for $5,000 to $10,000 primarily because, Campos said, it is “a crossover label; anyone who collects Americana” also covets the Uncle Sam label.Campos admitted the “Stories behind the images grab me,” as they reflect California culture and history. And that includes the state’s - and Santa Paula’s - other big industry, oil, images that sometimes were paired with produce.
Campos, the author of the “Images of America” book on Carpinteria whose latest publication on La Conchita/Summerland is about to be published, said the latter city was founded by spiritualists, which at times influenced label themes and design.There were three art periods of fruit labels: from about 1885 to 1920 naturalistic images were stenciled on boxes; advertising was prominent on paper labels through about 1935; and thereafter for about 20 years later commercial design took over. Circular labels were also used, but examples are now scarce.Campos said labels even acted as socio-economic commentators. In 1916 Sunkist started a “Drink orange juice” campaign to spread the word oranges were no longer just to be enjoyed by the elite, who until that time were the only ones able to afford them.Label artists for the most part are anonymous. “I think they were very happy,” said Campos, “not to have their names on labels,” with only a few exceptions.In 1955 packinghouses switched to corrugated cardboard boxes, “The end of labels as we know them.” But the demise also led to a later revival of interest, when Campos said two men were able to acquire a “massive” amount of vintage labels and started selling them, sparking an industry that only grows stronger each year with more and more people collecting labels.For more information, Campos suggested Rotarians visit