Golden guava, bitter ale

Selling with style

I’ve often been intrigued by that special quality of ephemera; the fact that it often played an active role in social or political history, before being disregarded, discarded, and occasionally stored as a memory of a life and society that has disappeared.

My exhibition Humble highlights the reasons and purposes for which 100 small items were created.

In preparing the exhibition I categorised each item by the function it performed in its brief lifetime of use. One of these functions is labelling and identification.

We choose to buy products according to what we have established as our consumer preference, a preference that has arisen through experience or through clever marketing campaigns. So we look for this preferred product by its label.

Inevitably, some of my favourite labels from the past are those where the graphic designer has done a successful job assessing the tastes of the potential market of the day, taking account of the latest design trends and tastes, or in some cases deliberately referencing the tastes of a past age.

Here are a few favourite labels from the Ephemera Collection.

Beef to prunes

Gear Meat Company :Prime quality. The Gear Meat Preserving and Freezing Co. of New Zealand Ld. Bock & Elliot, lithr, Wellington, N.Z. [Bull. 1880-1890].Gear Meat Company :Prime quality. The Gear Meat Preserving and Freezing Co. of New Zealand Ld. Bock & Elliot, lithr, Wellington, N.Z. [Bull. 1880-1890]. Ref: Eph-F-MEAT-Gear-002-3

The oldest is from the Gear Meat Company, and dates from as early as the 1880s. The Wellington lithographers Bock & Elliot have produced a label with the combination of decorative patterning redolent of the late Victorian age.

Union Airways of New Zealand Ltd : [Airline sticker, diamond shape. ca 1935-1945]. Ref: Eph-A-AVIATION-1937-04Union Airways of New Zealand Ltd : [Airline sticker, diamond shape. ca 1935-1945]. Ref: Eph-A-AVIATION-1937-04

Union Airways’ label has an Art Deco design so typical of the 1930s, when the company started out. It conveys a suitable message of modernity and aspiration.

[Label] :Hugo's guavas. Halves, standard grade. [1950s?]. Ref: Eph-A-TONGA-1950s-02[Label] :Hugo's guavas. Halves, standard grade. [1950s?]. Ref: Eph-A-TONGA-1950s-02

We don’t yet know the date of the guavas label for certain.

J Wattie Canneries Ltd :Watties prunes preserved in syrup, packed by J Wattie Canneries Limited, Hastings and Gisborne New Zealand. A New Zealand product. Net weight 1 lb. [Printed by] CSW. [Label. ca 1959]. Ref: Eph-B-FOOD-Watties-1959-01J Wattie Canneries Ltd :Watties prunes preserved in syrup, packed by J Wattie Canneries Limited, Hastings and Gisborne New Zealand. A New Zealand product. Net weight 1 lb. [Printed by] CSW. [Label. ca 1959]. Ref: Eph-B-FOOD-Watties-1959-01

However, this Wattie’s label is one from a very well-documented collection of labels donated by the late Mrs Norma Evans of Rotorua.

She was able to tell us that this collection was made when her daughters were doing a school project in 1959, and wrote directly to Watties for unused labels. Such accurate dating is a great help to future researchers.

The Ephemera Collection contains a variety of labels. Researchers can use these for histories of:

  • graphic design
  • the food industry, breweries, canneries
  • eating: using labels as well as menus and supermarket advertising, also kept in the Ephemera Collection
  • hotels, travel and tourism
  • language usage

Whet your thirst

Thanks to the exhibition, I have received several donations of ephemera, including labels.

Amongst these was a generous donation of beer and soft drink labels, usefully documented as dating from the 1960s. As with the Wattie’s labels, dating makes the material of more value for researchers, and makes us more likely to accept a collection that is offered to us.

The three groups of labels shown below were all sent to the collector Mr A S Edwards by the breweries themselves in 1960, so we know they were being used at that time.

Tui brewery

Tui Brewery Ltd: [Beer labels. ca 1960]. Eph-A-ALCOHOL-Edwards-Tui-1Tui Brewery Ltd: [Beer labels. ca 1960]. Ref: Eph-A-ALCOHOL-Edwards-Tui-1

Waikato brewery

Waikato Breweries: [Beer labels. ca 1960]. Ref: Eph-A-ALCOHOL-Edwards-Waikato-1Waikato Breweries: [Beer labels. ca 1960]. Ref: Eph-A-ALCOHOL-Edwards-Waikato-1

Westland breweries

[Beer labels for beers from Westland Breweries Ltd. and Robert Ford and Company. ca 1969]. Ref: Ref: Eph-A-ALCOHOL-Edwards-Westland-1[Beer labels for beers from Westland Breweries Ltd. and Robert Ford and Company. ca 1969]. Ref: Eph-A-ALCOHOL-Edwards-Westland-1

Part of this donation was a scrapbook in which the collector had stuck a selection of labels, but without dating them. So the date of this rather interesting retro style label is unknown but, because of its provenance, is likely to be from around 1960, despite its older look.

Digger Brand Stout label, perhaps from the 1960s. Ref: Eph-A-ALCOHOL-Edwards-1-091Digger Brand Stout label, perhaps from the 1960s. Ref: Eph-A-ALCOHOL-Edwards-1-091

Richard Whittingham is known to have been running a brewery in Gore in 1887. The lower edge bears the name of its lithographer Mills, Dick & Company. This printer was operating in Dunedin from the 1860s to around 1960.

Ballins Industries

The collection of soft drinks labels was sent to Mr Edwards by Ballins Industries Ltd in 1967. Again the date evidence makes this collection particularly useful to future researchers.

Ballins Industries Ltd: [Soft drink labels. ca 1967]. Ref: Eph-A-BEVERAGE-Soft-Edwards-BallinsBallins Industries Ltd: [Soft drink labels. ca 1967]. Ref: Eph-A-BEVERAGE-Soft-Edwards-Ballins

There’s still lots to uncover

So far we have not been able to ascertain the names of the designers of most of the labels in our collections. This is in some ways a drawback, but it does provide the potential for a researcher in the future to explore this field and fill in the gaps in our knowledge.

Come in and research these labels at the Turnbull Library

By Barbara Lyon

Barbara is the Turnbull's Ephemera Curator.

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