"FAQ'S About Reproducing Label Images"
For many years, I have been regularly asked in emails, letters and phone calls about reproductions of labels, not just whether the labels I sell are "authentic and genuine" which, of course, they are! But, I am constantly asked questions like:
"Can you tell me if it is legal to reproduce
a fruit crate label to use commercially?"
"I am interested in reproducing fruit labels and want to know whom to contact for permission"
"I would like to get scans of some of labels so I can make more, how do I do that?"
"How do I find out what labels are copyrighted, and which ones are not?"
"Can I make money reproducing labels, and is there a problem with that?"
"Can I be sued for reproducing these images, and if so what will it cost?"
"I took some images off your website for t-shirts, is that ok?"
First of all, these are actually very complicated questions to respond to, and every answer is different, which is why I have prepared this page. Secondly, I am very familiar with the subject, and have prepared my own comprehensive licensing contracts which I have used to negotiate with companies who license images for household items. But, I am NOT a Copyright Attorney nor Intellectual Properties Specialist -- Those guys get paid $300.00 per hour to deal with these issues in courts of law. However, I have learned enough over the years to tell "most people" the basics, anything after that, you'll have to hire one of those expensive attorneys to inform you and protect you from posible legal actions. I hereby declare that I am simply sharing my observations and what I have learned over the years dealing in label art, I make no claims to be making an legal representations here and suggest if you have any questions about anything I say here, get more advice from an Intellectual Property or Copyright attorney, or at least get some books at the library and make som cals to get more information.
The following concepts are for people who are considering making other than exact replicas of labels on paper. ALL COLLECTORS AND DEALERS FROWN ANGRILY on anyone who reproduces labels in color on paper in the same size as the original. That is because hundreds of thousands of dollars a year are spent inside the label hobby for originals. So, no one does it because everyone would shun the copies for damaging the hobby. Besides, there are so many thousands of authentic labels available for so little money, there is no market in reproducing them. But, no matter what form of reproduction you have in mind, the following is what I have learned. I AM NOT TALKING ABOUT SELLING REAL LABELS, I AM TALKING ABOUT "REPRODUCING LABEL IMAGES."
The most commonly asked question is "CAN I MAKE MONEY AT THIS?" And after 25 years of watching other people try to make money with reproductions of ANY TYPE of label images, and doing it myself, I can tell you truly that ALMOST EVERY ONE I HAVE SEEN TRY TO MAKE MONEY WITH LABEL IMAGE REPRODUCTIONS HAS FAILED OVER TIME. HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE HAVE TRIED IN MYRIAD WAYS AND ALL OF THEM RAN INTO A DEAD END, BECAUSE MOST OF THEIR VENTURES WERE REALTIVLY SHORT-LIVED. SOME WERE SUED, OR GOT BORED OR TIRED AND STOPPED, OR LOST A LOT OF MONEY TRYING, BECAUSE ALTHOUGH MOST OF THESE PEOPLE THOUGHT THIS WAS A NEW AND EXCITING IDEA, THE PUBLIC IS SIMPLY NOT INTERESTED ENOUGH IN THEM FOR ANYONE TO HAVE MADE SUBSTANTIAL PROFITS OVER THE LONG TERM. ALSO, BECAUSE THE COSTS OF OBTAINING ORIGINALS, OR LICENSING FROM OTHER PEOPLE, MANAGING ALL THE SCANS OR FILMS, PRINTING COSTS, ADVERTISING MATERIALS, BOOKEEPING, INVENTORY MANAGEMENT, MANUFACTURING, PACKAGING, SERVICING OF DEALER STOCKS, DISTRIBUTION, RETURNS OF DAMAGED GOODS, AND LIABILITY COVERAGE(S) IS TOO HIGH AND TOO DAUNTING, COMPARED TO THE SMALL PROFITS HISTORICALLY RELAIZED BY FRUIT LABEL REPRODUCTIONS IN THE "GIFT ITEM" MARKETPLACE. ON TOP OF THIS, ONCE YOU PUT AN IMAGE OUT IN THE MARKETPLACE ON A PARTICULAR ITEM, SOMEONE ELSE MAY TRY TO DO THE SAME (OR ALREADY HAS) , USING THE SAME IMAGE ON A SIMILAR PRODUCT AND YOU'LL NEED TO THINK ABOUT PROTECTING YOURSELF FROM THE COMPETITION ON THE SAME IMAGE YOU ARE INVESTING IN. AND, AFTER THIS, ONCE THE PUBLIC LOSES INTEREST IN THE IMAGES AND WANTS SOMETHING NEW, YOU HAVE TO KEEP ADDING TO THE PRODUCT-LINE, OR LOSE FAVOR WITH CUSTOMERS AND RETAIL CONSIGNEE OUTLETS -- WITHOUT WHICH, YOUR PRODUCT LINE MAY DIE OUT. That means you have to have a contual influx of new images, and a large investment in each item bearing each different image.
So when people ask me if they can make money at this, I tell them "Not really." and "It's a lot more work than you think, and many people in the label business have tried for years, always with limited success and long term failures." To which they invariably ask, "IF NO ONE IS MAKING MONEY AT IT, THEN WHY ARE YOU DOING IT?" And I reply: "BECAUSE I HAVE DONE THIS FULL-TIME, EVERY DAY FOR 25 YEARS, HAVE WRITTEN BOOKS ON LABEL ART, SPENT HUNDREDS OF HOURS RESEARCHING LICENSING CONTRACT LAW AND IMAGE MARKETING. I HAVE ALSO OBTAINED THOUSANDS OF IMAGES FROM NOW-DEFUNCT PRINTING HOUSES, WHICH NO ONE ELSE HAS, MOST IMAGES BEING IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN (PRE-1920), OR SIMPLY FREE OF COPYRIGHT CLAIMS. IN SOME CASES I HAVE OBTAINED THE RIGHTS FOR REPRODUCTIONS, OR I HAVE MY OWN PUBLICATION RIGHTS FROM PRIOR USES. I USE LABELS THAT NO ONE ELSE HAS INSTEAD OF THE SAME COMMONLY AVAILABLE LABELS ALL THE OTHER PEOPLE HAVE TRIED OR FAILED WITH.
I can better avoid many of the pitfalls others have gone through, by using images that have not and won't be a problem. Companies like Sunkist, Inc. very actively seek out and STOP people from infringing on their brands and images! Anyone I have seen try this endeavour as a "cottage industry" or "home business" have barely been able to make a profitable venture of it. So I avoid using their images without permission.
You see, if you are seeking to reproduce labels that are already available to collectors, you have to consider how many images are actually AVAILABLE at all to use. Some labels there are ten of and others there are 100,000 of!. There are two types of labels available to most collectors, these are "common" and "rare." Common labels are almost all from the late1940s to the early 1970s and number a couple thousand brands, half of which are non-pictorial. Most of these were found in large numbers from 5,000 to 100,000 or more copies known, so there are literally millions of original common labels in dealers hands and that have been sold globally for thirty years to tens of thousands of customers. Labels from Sunkist, which they protect, make up hundreds of those brands and images. Most of these "common labels" are copyrighted, owned by new publishers in the new marketplace, or have already been tried on products and met with failures. Whereas, Rare labels are usually older, limited in number, hard to get, expensive, or not available at all, as they reside in large private collections and institutions, or must be licensed from some other advanced collector (whom you must pay fees). Out of the 6,000 available labels in the world of common label collecting, half do not have images worth reproducing. Of the 3,000 remaining about 200 of the available citrus labels are protected by Sunkist. Then, there are about 1,000 still owned by successful long-standing farming companies who still use them. Of the 1,800 remaining, they come in 43 sizes and shapes, and these come from 24 different American states, and several foreign countries. These labels have been gathered and put into the collecting market for over 30 years. So the field of potential images is a fairly finite pool. Of these remaing labels with nice images on them, there are 200 or so subjects of the image: dogs, horses, flowers, people, indians, forests, lakes, mountains and landmarks. From these topics you try to find the ones you think your customers will like, not really realizing that 500 other people have thought the same thing years ago, and probably tried a product like a tea cup or a plate, an tin garbage can, decoratives canisters, magnets, stickers, wallpaper, wrapping paper, hats, ties, aprons, puzzles, calendars, thermometers, and more, all of which have already been tried. Besides, many people only want labels from their state, meaning a Florida shopper has no interest in labels from outside Florida. A Washington state apple label collector, couldn't care less about a mouse-pd with any California image on it. And the national market is even more fickle. You may want to use one of the beautiful Sunkist images, specifically designed for broad market-appeal,but you have to get written permission and probably pay them a royalty depending on what you are making, how many you wish to make, where you wish to sell them, and some restrictions on its use. Then, once you narrow down the images you want to use, and the product(s) you want to make, and where you plan to market them, you hire an attorney to find out if the image is available. Then you practice due-diligence to contact any obvious owner of the brand. If it is available, you negotiate to license it from the prior user/copyright owner. If the image is without copyright, you have to find out if anyone else in the gift market has published this in some form and holds publication rights to it on specific products. If you can't find the owner, and there is no claim on the art, and no one files a desist and refrain order against you, then you just have to find a market for enough of them to cover the costs of your new business. Then, after the item comes to market, you find yourself with all the responsibilities of the product manufacturering business. For any such business to be truly good at this they have to have a national audience, or better, international. Otherwise all sales would be home mail order, which can be slow, or, a localized business limited to local traffic. So using common label images is now more than ever more of a long-shot idea that's been worked at by many, for a long time. It's really not something I can recommend from these observations. And the greater ultimate truth is: ONCE YOU REALIZE THIS AND GO THROUGH ALL THE MOTIONS, AND FIND THE PERFECT MARKET TO SELL YOUR NEW PRODUCTS IN, THEY WILL BE COMPETING IN A LIMITED NUMBER OF PLACES AND WILL BE COMPEETING WITH HUNDREDS OF OTHER EQUALLY WORTHY PRODUCTS AND GIFT ITEMS.
To be successful in selling images, you need available images to use that the public has not seen before and is therefore profitable. And you'll need a stream of them. This is easy if you have a lot of old, rare labels NOT in the 6,000 "common labels" desrcibed above. That second class of "Rare" labels is a realm most label collectors will never explore, because there are about 5,000 more rare labels which came from printing and lithograph company basement archives, or packing house attics on some farm or from employees and artists from the printing firms. They come from large personal collections from Washington, Oregon, California, Texas, Florida, and elsewhere, built by farmers and families, and kids on bikes and career artists, litho company salesmen samples and such. These type of labels exist in numbers fewer than 100 copies known to exist. Extremely rare labels number fewer than 20 known in the world. (There is even a realm of several thousand known images which are one-of-a-kind unique labels. This realm is where serious people who want to reproduce label images go to find a stream of images to publish. Either they own their own collections which they publish from, or they license the use of the images from the owner. In America there are fewer than 100 "leading collections" of this type, many in instutions, and many in the hands of people who just don't want to share. They have no interest in being contacted. To successfully reproduce rare label images on things, you need a very serious collection, with lots of good images.
The final problem is, that these rare 5,000 images have all the same problems applied to them as is described above for common labels. Many of them are non-pictorial, some are rare but still owned or copyrighted by someone. Others have already been exploited over the years, and the public really isn't interested in those products or designs. So all the same problems make it equally hard to find usuable rare images. The only hope is to control a vast number of images that are attractive, new and safely marketable. This is something very few people have.
Some of these collections have been opened to publish books about label art. And out of frustration or deceit, people have been known to scan the images from the books, and reproduce them for sale in antique stores and on eBay. Some people borrow rare labels so as to make color copies at the local copy-shop and put them in frames for high prices. Such forms of cheap-suit infringement constitute very good reasons for serious collectors to not welcome any form of exploitation of their collections. One label dealer turned image publisher photographed dozens of rare, beautifully, privately-held labels and made series of postcards, which cost a lot to creat e and market, and in a few years disappeared from the market. T-shirts with label images have come and gone a dozen times with no great fanfare. People don't really buy the image on a mug, if they can buy a full size original of the label for the same retail price!
The only successful publishers of retro-label images are in the product manufacturing or licensing business, and have relationships with leading collectors -- or do it all themselves. Of the world of ALL COLLECTIBLE LABELS, only a small portion are even worth considering investing money in the reproduction and marketing of, anyway.
But, if all that has not dissuaded you, feel free to read on. There is additional information at the end of this page.
PAPER REPRODUCTIONS OF LABEL IMAGES:
There are two distinct types of reproducing of label images: (1) reproducing them on paper as if they were real labels, or, (2) reproducing them on any other medium, like coffee cups, t-shirts and other new products. For this part of the discussion, I will speak of labels as the subject, not just nuveau products bearing label images.
First, let's see what the difference is between a "REPRODUCTION" AND A "FORGERY", the difference between a "LICENSED USE" and an "UNLICENSED USE." And, let's see if there is any money to be made in doing this, when so many real, authentic, original labels are around for people to own, and where so many others have failed in so many label-image ventures. Here are some things I have observed over the past 25 years, and some definitions of these different concepts.
REPRODUCTIONS: Probably the most often asked question, and misunderstood concept about label collecting is, REPRODUCTIONS. Today, with prices climbing to hundreds of dollars each FOR ORIGINAL "RARE" LABELS, and with incredible improvements in color-copier technology, many people are leery. To a degree, caution is understandable, but, let's also be realistic. There are probably more reproductions in the stamp and coin collecting hobbies, than will ever be dreamed of in label collecting, and far more at stake, but, that may be changing. In recent years, many people, especially those in the antique business, have held the mistaken impression that labels available today "must be reproductions." The fact is, that in the mid 1950s, the entire coastal packing industry changed over from wooden boxes to pre-printed cardboard. Since cardboard could have the labelling information printed directly on it, labels were no longer necessary. Packer's left-over original labels simply sat in the basements of packing houses unused. Then, in the 1960s and 70s (and still today), these labels have been gathered up and circulated in various ways. Collectors and dealers may rest assured that more than 99% of the time, they are dealing in originals. In label collecting, many people have confused REPRODUCTIONS with FORGERIES, and that is where the air needs to be cleared. A reproduction may not be bad at all, but, a FORGERY, is always bad. Let's examine why.
A MATTER OF STRICT DEFINITION
A "Reproduction" is defined as, "to bring into existence again, or re-create. To make a copy of, to produce again, to bring forward anew", etc... This classification can include any legitimately owned label or brand, that is legally reprinted by its owner.
When a packing company originally ordered labels from a lithograph house, this would be called "production". The original hand-painted sketch is photographed using a system of filters to separate the colors, and then printed. Thus, these labels are "productions" of the original art-work. Should the packer then run out of these labels, he will call up the printer and order more. The printer will then "re-produce" or "reprint" more copies for them as they are needed. Since individual brands were often continually produced, revised, and re-produced for decades, one could say that all labels are reproductions by pure definition. One such label, CAMEL Brand pears, was re-printed (almost) annually from 1921-1978 (57+ years in use) and numbered around two-million copies used. This is just one of thousands of long-lived brands, which were re-produced year after year. During it's nearly 60 years of life, it was redesigned several times, and in several sizes, for different types of fruits. It bore the names of different towns from Napa to Loomis to Penryn, and different packers.
The difference today is, that most of the packers and farmers who originally owned the labels are long out of business, the printers and their files are gone, copyrights of brands have long ago expired and the files discarded, the packing houses, farms and even the trees are gone, and there is now no fruit to be packed and shipped. Almost none of today's citrus, pear and apple packers use labels anymore and most haven't for twenty years (although many vegetable and grape growers still do). Collectors today, buy, sell and trade in their leftover labels. They don't need or use them, no printers are making them anymore for them! So, there is no legally acceptable, legitimate reason to re-produce or re-print a label, right? Or, is there?
WITHIN THEIR RIGHTS
In one fairly recent example, the Washington apple packing firm known as BLUE CHELAN, in Chelan, Washington State, called a printing company in 1986 and had six of their historic labels reproduced for distribution to the public. These were labels which they had stopped using years ago in a paper form (but not on cardboard). And, although collectors complained about these unmarked "nostalgic" reprintings, and rightfully so, BLUE CHELAN's legal right to reproduce these labels was not a question. They own the brands and art-works, and can reprint more when ever they like. They have no intent to defraud the public. They are just making available more of their own labels for people to enjoy.
How this affects collectors, is this: Of these labels, BLUE CHELAN, LAKE CHELAN and CHELAN SUPREME, are not very graphically appealing, and are not in high demand by collectors. Actually, there are fair quantities of the original labels still available, and no one pays more than a dollar or two for one, anyway. So, the recent reproductions would have almost no affect on the label collecting community. Except, that they also reproduced three other very attractive and often sought after labels: CRUISER, OUTBOARD and MOUNTAIN GOAT. The older, original printings of CRUISER, now sells for up to $25.00, OUTBOARD retails for up to $35.00, and MOUNTAIN GOAT usually goes for $3.00 to $7.00. On top of this, there are older, rarer, versions of MOUNTAIN GOAT and CRUISER that can go for over $100.00 each. An obvious problem arises when an unaware buyer purchases the 1980s re- production for the price of an original. Blue Chelan made no effort to install on these reproductions any sort of qualifying mark, like " 1986 Blue Chelan." Nonetheless, they were completely within their rights to "reproduce" the labels.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
There are subtle and conspicuous ways to tell one of these reproductions (which the reader will find under the apple label listings of the Price Guide). The main difference is the bright white paper stock they are printed on. Flip them over and look at the back. Then compare this paper to a dozen miscellaneous labels, and you'll clearly see the difference. Blue Chelan was NOT trying to hoax the public, they just wanted to re-produce their labels. Nothing wrong with that. But, buyers should learn to tell the difference.
In another case, the new owners of Harry and David's Bear Creek Orchards in Medford, Oregon, had the brands BEAR CREEK, TIPSY BEE, and CUB similarly re-produced for a promotional item in their country store outlet, because they had been getting requests for labels for years. In this case, they were again, completely within their legal rights to re-produce the labels for whatever purposes they wanted. Fortunately for collectors, they very thoughtfully included a clearly visible notation along the bottom edge of the labels that states it is: " 1987 Harry & David." On the originals, of course, there are no such markings.
IN THEIR ANNUAL CALENDAR
In another instance, Diamond Fruit Growers of Hood River, Oregon made reproductions of their 1912 label for use on a paper calendar in 1984. These, too, say clearly that they are "Reproduction by Diamond Fruit Growers" along the bottom border, which is fortunate, because the original 1912 label is known to exist in numbers less than ten, and sells for over $100.00. The new label, or calendar print, is worth about .10 cents. The inscription is, unfortunately, in an added white border below the complete label image. So, if this were trimmed away, the warning is no longer visible. Look for the clean white paper stock it was printed on as your first clue, and the varnishing as the second clue (the early label was never varnished). The firm was completely within their legal rights to reproduce the labels.
SO YOU SEE
In each of these cases the owner of the brand exercised their legal right to have their brands reproduced for their own purposes, and were (mostly) thoughtful enough to provide that information visibly on each copy. These firms were not trying to perpetrate a hoax, or FORGERY on the public, or make more labels illicitly just to make a profit. Each firm spent a good deal of money on their good intentions to have these labels made. And, the most important point, is that they are long-standing, well known growers, illustrating their own histories.
Corona Printing Company of southern California, also printed calendars which featured full-size, full-color reproductions for civic purposes. It was a legitimate use, with no intent to defraud, and no objections were submitted to them for doing it. The same is true of a calendar I created for KVIE Public Television in Sacramento. We featured 48 full color label images, the main 12 were almost normal label size. These were suitable for framing, but deliberately printed in sizes smaller than original labels. We were trying to present the beautiful images, not forge them, and they have calendar information on the back side.
A "Forgery," on the other hand, is a label that is intended to fool buyers into accepting a copy that is not authentic. It is defined as "the act of making imitations of works of art for fraudulent purposes, or to counterfeit with the intent to defraud; to practice deception or falsify; made to resemble some genuine thing with the intent to deceive. "FORGERIES differ from REPRODUCTIONS. FORGERIES are bad, and legitimate reproductions, as we just discussed, are not. Another type of reproduction that can be used as a forgery, COLOR LASER COPYING, will be discussed ahead. Right now, let's look specifically at deliberate FORGERIES.
"HEY, WHAT HAVE YOU GOT THERE...?"
One such case of forged labels, involves a small group of citrus labels that appeared at a swap meet in southern California in 1979. A well known dealer came in and announced that he had available for sale or trade, small quantities of a handful of very rare labels and was offering them at a "cut rate." One collector who was familiar with the original versions of these labels noticed that the paper they were printed on was coated with substances never used on real labels. He also noted that a couple of the original labels were printed from stone, and the now available ones were not. One of the brands, ARDEN VILLA, in its original form, was bordered with bronze dust, and sells today for nearly $250.00. However, the copies being offered were more dull in color and had a gold-colored ink, rather than the original bronze. The paper was a clay-coated variety, also very new, which was fresh and white when flipped over. These labels even "smelled new" according to two knowledgeable collectors. Also, all of these forgeries were on the same weight and type of paper. The originals would have been on different papers, from different printers, and from different eras. So, for a number of reasons, forgeries are fairly easy to spot. Four of the labels had originally been printed by the Schmidt Lithograph Company, and bore the firm's "bug" in the lower border. Anyone familiar with Schmidt's labels would know that these weren't printed by them.
"WHAT'S GOING ON HERE?"
When questioned about the recent find of labels, the man claimed that they were purchased from a private party ("a women who met him at a gas station on her way out of town, and had them in the trunk of her car") who assured him these were real, when in fact they were forgeries. Because of the clues illustrated above, collectors were quickly alerted to the hoax, and, the perpetrator of the hoax was kept from doing any real harm. Unfortunately, before the discovery was made that these were not originals, several collectors had already spent money to by them and ended up rather disappointed. Among the known forgeries at that time were citrus brands such as, ARDEN VILLA, CAMP FIRE, ETIWANDA BLUE JAY, GROSSMONT, BULL DOG, GOLDEN BOWL and FOUNTAIN.
"HOW OBVIOUS CAN YOU BE?"
Something else that proved the labels were forgeries, was another label that showed up, after the first batch. The man who had "obtained" and circulated the forgeries, came to the next meeting with a label he had made for himself. After a career in the packing-house refrigeration business, the man had a gimmick label designed and printed. The label featured an Eskimo floating along on an ice-drift. He called the label "frigid- midget," which is a take off on a slang term about a "frigid midget with a rigid digit." This label was printed on the same type and weight of clay-coated paper, the same inks and varnish as the forgeries, and looked and smelled just as new as the rest. Anyone familiar with color printing knows, it is an expensive process to print labels. One might conjecture, that, in an effort to reduce the cost of his own label, he "ganged" several labels into one printing. It is important to note, that no one has accused the man of forging labels. Rather, they all witnessed the introductions of these labels at collector meetings, and have all maintained how unusual the "coincidence" is. He explained it as "meeting a woman at a gas station who was leaving town, and he bought them from the trunk of her car." Knowing and proving, are two different things. Not long after the discovery and declaration that this man's labels were not genuine, he removed them from the market and moved away. Some years later, most of this bogus stock was purchased by a dealer, who, thankfully, marked every one he sold with a stamp stating that it was a reproduction. Later, the entire stock was again sold to an antique dealer in Santa Barbara county. UNMARKED copies can currently (1994) be purchased in his antique shop for $5.00 ea. This person told me on the phone he had no intention of marking them as forgeries. So, be forewarned.
A MORE POPULAR METHOD -- COLOR XEROX
Another type of forgery appeared in Sacramento in the early 1980s, when a local printing company questionably reproduced the citrus labels RED SKIN, CUPID and GOLDEN SCEPTER and the Blue Anchor, Inc., pear label SMILING THRU. These labels had a rough pebbled finish to the surface, similar to color Xeroxes and when set side by side with the real brands, could be easily recognized as fake by any experienced collector. Xerox color coping was a new technology at the time and was occasionally used to forge labels in very small numbers. The paper was white and mottled in a way true labels never were. They sold for a few dollars each. But today color laser copiers have replaced this old color printing technology.
HARDER TO DETECT -- PROFESSIONAL JOB
In a more recent discovery, the Louisiana yam labels JOE SAMMY'S and SMOKY JIM'S, both featuring black men, were (possibly) illegally reproduced, or forged. I say possibly, because the ones that have been circulated in the past several years, are again on recent paper, poorly printed, and bear a blurry version of the Louis Roesch printer's bug. By now, these have circulated to dealers and honest people everywhere. The question remains, are these originals from Louis Roesch's presses, or did the packer have a local, lesser quality printer make them for him. One eastern dealer says there is no evidence they were forged. However, in the printing trade, no printer will print a label bearing another printer's bug, unless they are hired as a sub- contractor to produce runs that the first printer is too busy to manufacturer, so they hire other litho houses to run jobs for them. Such a case would be, if, let's say, Schmidt Lithograph hired Olsen Brothers to handle their overflow when their presses got too busy. In this instance, the plates from Schmidt's would be taken over to Olsen and run on their presses. The Schmidt bug would appear, even though Olsen did the actual printing. Olsen would be paid for the work, but, the client would still be getting his labels (effectively) from Schmidt.
LOUISIANA YAMS OF SUSPECT ORIGIN
Louisiana yam labels have been gaining a lot of popularity over the past few years. A few of these labels feature African Americans on them, and are fairly popular items. But, originals seem to be very rare, as in the case of the JOE SAMMY and SMOKEY JIM brands, this author found and showed the suspected forgeries to a friend who owns the Louis Roesch Lithograph company in San Francisco, that had made the originals many years before. He told me that these had not come from his presses, but, must have been reproduced somewhere back-East. I also have many original, dated file-samples of these labels from Schmidt Litho and Louis Roesch. None of these look anything like the newest printings. So, the newest printings are suspect, to say the least.
Since the discovery of these two images, two more yam-label forgeries have shown up in Illinois and elsewhere, COON an POSSUM, both featuring animal images. It is possible that the owners of these labels, legally "reproduced" their brands, but, no attempt was made at declaring this for the sake of collectors, and the Louis Roesch bug was not removed. Popular belief maintains that they are forgeries. An original copy of JOE SAMMY or SMOKEY JIM would sell for around $50.00 or more. The forgeries sell for up to $8.00. The POSSUM and COON labels with the animals, sell for $25.00 plus as originals, and up to $12.00 as forgeries.
DO UNTO OTHERS
This practice of forging labels is really not viable in the face of several million original labels still being available to collectors. It is foolish to reproduce labels for two reasons. Once discovered, dealers would not trust him or buy from him again. Besides this, it is very expensive to make color forgeries (or any color printing for that matter) in quantity. So, he would lose a lot of money as a result. The main reason for this, is that any label worth forging will have an obviously high value in the market place. So, forgers will only forge labels they think they can make money off of. And the decorator market has plenty to choose from without any forgeries. There is "no money in it."
ON THE WHOLE, NO NEED TO WORRY
Fortunately, despite a few gloomy reports, very few forgeries are known of produce-crate labels. Perhaps, in any hobby where money is a factor, it is to be expected. Vigilance will be its own reward. But, fear is unwarranted at this time. There are enough well known, responsible dealers to help the collector avoid the problems of forgeries. There are many sharp eyes out there, and label dealers/collectors police their own. Once a forgery is spotted, it is only a matter of a few phone calls before the wheels are set in motion to alert dealers to the forgery's existence. If you have any doubts, there are people who can help. But, overall, there is really no need to worry. The fruit crate label hobby is still young and innocent enough that no one is going to get rich by selling forgeries. It is too cost prohibitive to mass-reproduce labels in color, and most modern, respectable lithographers and printers around the country won't do it as a matter of ethics and law. Forgeries are the minutest exception, and not the rule.
STAMPING OUT FORGERIES
The Citrus Label Society in southern California announced "voluntary stamping program" in 1982, whereby, any forgeries brought to the society meetings would be stamped on the back by the club secretary with a rubber stamp stating: "REPRODUCTION - Marked By The Citrus Label Society."
A WRENCH IN THE WORKS
Now that we have defined the difference between reproductions and forgeries, we get into the grey-area of reproductions mentioned before. Some people will still call forgeries, "reproductions," for whatever reason. But, despite this, the two distinct definitions apply. There are PRODUCTION labels, REPRODUCTION labels, and then there are FORGERIES. Everybody got that? Well, today, there is another class of imitation labels that can be either reproductions or forgeries. COLOR LASER-COPIES!!!
COLOR LASER COPIERS -- BE CAREFUL
The only bittersweet threat beyond mass forgery of a label is now the color laser copier. Canon and Xerox Corporations, makers of copiers for decades, and recently Kodak, have all developed and begun distributing color plain-paper copiers which have remarkable capabilities. The color and resolution is so good, in fact, that for a few years the FBI has been hunting down people who forge (counterfeit) paper money. It has become a major problem. The forgeries actually pass for real bills in most cases, especially in machines that make change, but, these are being re-fitted to recognize a false bill. A new technology has been (is being) added to these color-copier machines, to actually "see" money, and to either print VOID on it in red letters, or mark it discreetly so authorities can trace it to the source. Should a label owner want to try and prosecute forgers for illegally forging their family label, the laws and mechanisms are in place to do so!
Today's new color copiers are truly remarkable in the quality of color they can reproduce, and truly extraordinary forgeries can now be made of any color label, in its full size for about $2.50. Laid side by side, these copies are nearly impossible to tell apart, unless you have a well-trained eye, or check the papers they are printed on. Labels sold in a frame, will be impossible to tell, unless you take them out, or know EXACTLY what you are looking at. The reason this is new technology is "bittersweet," is because it can have some very positive uses for labels collectors, along these lines:
"I'M TRYING TO FIND MY FAMILY'S LABEL"
Suppose you have a label that is unique, and the family who originally owned the brand, saw it in an article you did for a magazine. No one in the family has an original, or has even seen one in fifty years. Now, they call and want some for the family. But, there aren't any. The one in the magazine article is "unique." The best they can get, is a color copy which they can frame for the dining room wall. I have personally made many such copies of labels in my collection, specifically for families to put on their walls. I deem it a good-will gesture, because, so many people have given family items to me over the years. I will also give them originals, if there are enough to give. On top of giving the family something they can enjoy and be proud of, it is a pleasant way to let a broader audience appreciate the art-form all over again. This may seem an unusual admission to make, as a purist in the hobby, but, there are three important facts to remember:
(1) I don't charge more than the $3.00 to $5.00 it takes to make the copy for a family member or historical society. (2) ON THE BACK OF EACH AND EVERY COPY I MAKE IS THE FOLLOWING STAMPED INFORMATION:
THIS COPY IS A FACSIMILE REPRODUCTION OF
AN ORIGINAL LABEL, CREATED FOR REFERENCE
AND SHOULD NOT BE CONFUSED WITH AN
(3) Over the years, I have accumulated tens of thousands of unique labels, from people giving them to me. Therefore, in appreciation, I have always strived to provide real copies of family labels to people who ask me, whenever possible. If it is not possible, I am willing to use color laser copier technology to make a copy of my original for them. To date, I have made about fifty of these only and every one bears my stamp (above)!!
COLOR LASER COPY vs. PHOTOGRAPHY
Years ago, a man took several Sacramento River pear labels to be copied. These were unique and the owner was not willing to give them up. The man went to a camera shop and had them photographed in color, enlarged and printed in normal size. The prints were $30.00 each. A color laser copy of the same is $3.00 each.
REPAIRS AND DISPLAY PURPOSES
Another great use for this technology is for repairing damaged labels with portions missing. This is especially useful for labels soaked off of box-heads. Many have missing pieces, and a color copy can help repair them. By copying a complete label in full color, a collector can "cut and paste" the color-copy to the original and restore the missing portion for display purposes. In my opinion, this enhancement to a damaged label is perfectly acceptable. If a complete label isn't available, you can copy the damaged area, and just use an adjoining area to fix the missing piece. I have done this for years and know other collectors who have also used this technique. This is one of the blessings of color laser copier technology.
UNGUARDED DISPLAYS AND HEAVY SUNLIGHT
Recently, the new owners and developers of the building in San Francisco which used to house Schmidt Lithograph Company, called upon me to make an exhibit for them. This exhibit consisted of more than sixteen - 48" x 48" plexiglass panels, illustrating the chronological history of Schmidt. To tell the story, I used 400 hundred of my rarest artifacts and many of my oldest and most treasured images and photographs -- most of which are unique. There was no way I was going to permanently mount my one-of-a- kind artifacts for this permanent, unguarded exhibit. Also, the third floor hallway, where the exhibit now resides, is full of windows and sunlight. Real artifacts would fade dramatically in a matter of months and be ruined. Whereas, color-copies are much longer lived and completely replaceable. So, I made laser color copies of each item, instead, and mounted them in the panels, every one bearing my warning stamp on the reverse! Ten of the panels had these trimmed reproductions and six of the panels were filled with real labels, but, all common ones which Schmidt had produced. Each of the panels with reproductions in them, also had a warning in an obviously visible location, that the whole show was made of color copies. I hoped this would discourage vandalism of the panels.
The show was a complete success and still hangs permanently in the building, and no one cares that the labels are reproductions. It is quite probable that some of the labels would have been stolen if each panel hadn't warned that they are worthless copies. Meanwhile, all my cherished, original artifacts are safely where they belong, in my collections. So, again, this is a perfectly acceptable practice, given the nature of the presentation, and the safeguards that were exercised (in my opinion).
A MOST FORTUNATE REST STOP
Passing a restaurant in central California, the author went in to have lunch. On the walls, everywhere, were hundreds of framed fruit labels. Amid this spectacle, were two MONTE RIO Brand, turn-of-the-century citrus labels from Placer County (and a mate pear label). This was unbelievable. I asked the owner for the name of the person who gave them to her. I then contacted that person, and found no more existed. So, I asked the owner if I could have the originals for preservation, and they could display a copy in the frame instead. She agreed, and now the rare, original labels are safely stored, and the public gets to enjoy the images, anyway. Here, again, color copies served collecting, instead of harming it.
RUNNING ON EMPTY
Finally, on another occasion: We had to pull off the highway to get gasoline in Mendocino County, one time. There was a gas station in Ukiah, California, owned by a man who had been a "box- maker" earlier in his life. The office of this particular gas station was unusual, in that it was inside the stump of an old, hollowed out, redwood tree. Inside, there were about 25 or 30 pear box crate-ends, hanging on the wall. Many of the label were very old and some were unique (as it turns out). They were also fading as a result of being exposed for so many years to sunlight. After interviewing the owner about his career in agriculture, I asked to be allowed to take the box-heads home, and soak off the original labels, to which he agreed. Color Xerox copies of the best of these were made (and a few more interesting ones), and glued back onto the box-heads. Some of the originals were faded very badly, so, a copy of one of my cleaner ones was made instead. This actually improved the color quality of the display overall, which the owner was thankful for. The following weekend, they were all returned to the gas station and re-hung on the walls. Once again, color copier technology helped the purposes of collecting, and still allowed the public to enjoy the images on the gas station wall.
A MATTER OF HONESTY
Given an ethical base, there is no reason that laser color technology cannot be benignly used to bring the art form to the public, especially in permanent installations, such as exhibits in restaurants and the like. Of course, this would never do for a museum quality exhibit where originals are the whole idea. But, in some circumstances (the ones I have outlined) it is the most appropriate and acceptable course (again, in my opinion). I was warned years ago, that I should never want my good name and hard-earned reputation associated with reproduction labels. Especially because, most people confuse the terms reproductions with forgeries. At that time, color Xerox machines were new. The fact that it would be bad for me and bad for the hobby, is obvious. And, I still fundamentally agree. No one should want this. However, under the circumstances illustrated above, I have no problem making "explainable facsimiles" for justifiable uses. On a limited basis, and if the copies are clearly marked, I see no reason why it should reflect poorly on my reputation, or anyone else's. Under the right circumstances, and using stamps, markings or other honest practices to identify the color copies, there is no reason why color reproductions or facsimiles can not be beneficial to the hobby. Under the wrong circumstances, or misuse of such technology, color reproductions can be devastating to the good will of the hobby as a whole, and such practitioners should be and may be prosecuted.
The fact is, it is inevitable that people will (and already have) use this new laser color technology to copy labels to sell or trade to an unsuspecting public. Such is said to be true in Canada, where the rare and beautiful "OGOPOGO" and "BLUE BIRD" labels are already being circulated for profit and trade. In a "best of all possible worlds" scenario, everyone who does reproduce labels by such means, will be honest enough to admit it, or mark their forgeries as such. But, unfortunately, unmarked copies have already, (and unhappily) ended up at swap-meets, in some cases, their sellers "not realizing" they were reproductions. It is best to limit the copies you make for any reason, and to mark them all immediately. Reputations are at stake.
Besides the rough finish Color Xerox forgeries often have, there are some other ways to spot a bogus brand. One clue, is that if someone is going to go to the trouble, time and expense to forge labels, he would most likely forge a rare and attractive label that would normally sell for a high price, such as those mentioned in the previous paragraphs. This is true of nearly any item forged for profit. No one in their right mind is going to forge a plentiful $2.00 label, but, more likely candidates, such as labels which have already established themselves as rare,expensive and desirable.
SCREEN PATTERNS, DEAD GIVE AWAY
Older original labels, especially those printed from stone, when looked at through a magnifying glass, will show that the image itself is made up of thousands of tiny dots of ink on white. Today, it would be nearly impossible to reproduce this type of label by re-using the stone process. Therefore, any forgeries will have to be photographically screened for the color- separations, and will, thus, be fairly easy to identify, by the mixture, as it were, of printing techniques.
TOM CAT Brand
One such example is "TOM CAT" lemons which is a very well known and desirable brand in the retail trade. The original often sells for around $45.00 to 65.00 (or more) and carries the Sunkist name on the lemon wrapper. The forgery, first noticed being offered in a nationally distributed publication by a dealer in Chicago, does not say "Sunkist" on the wrap. In this case, the forgery was advertised as a reproduction, but, the seller had no legal right of ownership to the brand. Not all forgeries, however, will carry this obvious a clue, as was true in the citrus labels mentioned above. In this case, the forger didn't want to risk the wrath of Sunkist's legal department, so, they made sure to remove the Sunkist name from the art-work, before forging the copies.
Few people realize that the label was first used for grapes and pomegranates, plums and persimmons, through the California Fruit Exchange, by the Cutler Fruit Growers Association from the early 1920s to 1939. It was also used concurrently for citrus fruits by the Orosi Foothill Citrus Association, for many years (oranges: 1926-43), (lemons: 1931-40s). All known versions of the brand were produced by Schmidt Lithograph Company, between the early 1920s and the late 1940s.
Today, there are fewer than 10 known grape-size copies in existence, and no price is established for them, as none are known to have been sold. The Lemon label sells for $35.00 to $65.00, generally. The orange label sell for upwards of $200.00. Only two dozen are currently known to exist in collections.
The image found unusual uses as advertising posters for two separate exhibits of label art in Berlin, Germany and at the Univ. of Missouri, Kansas City Art Gallery in 1972. Today, the image is still occasionally found on items such as post cards, stationary and envelopes, coffee cups, refrigerator magnets and even as a jig-saw puzzle.
photographic techniques, will look like a tiny honeycomb grid throughout the image, of closely attached colors, just as one might see in a color photo in any modern magazine. This is known as a "screen pattern". It is nearly impossible to photographically reproduce an old "screened" image with today's techniques, as the screen patterns cannot help but conflict. This is called a "moire" pattern. Any trained eye can spot the difference immediately. An original label printed from stone ,before the mid 1920s, will absolutely not have a screen pattern. To falsely re-print a vintage label without detection, a forger must actually have the original artists painting to recreate a label perfectly, and even then the colors are standardized today and the inks of yesterday were often customized in some way. So,
the technological barriers of forging labels today in this way make it a very unattractive practice to attempt, if not totally impossible. Beyond laser copying, that is. One dealer once said that he could absolutely reproduce a rare orange label so well, that no one could tell it from an original. This is 99% impossible to do today, given the nature of modern scientific detection and method. Dream on. He may fool some unwitting buyers, but, why bother?
STOP AND SMELL THE PAPER
Two other quick checks that any collector can perform to see if their label is an original is by flipping the label over and looking at the back. Does it look old, or is the paper stained and yellowing? Does the label smell old and musty or stale? Is there mildew in the paper? Are there a few minor tears or folds or even staple holes? Is the label brittle from age? Is it a coated type of paper? Older labels have the feel and often the
aroma of age. Anyone who has been in the basement of a packing house knows that smell. Original labels were printed on special paper stocks, designed and created for lithographers, so the labels would dry flat and even on the box-head after application. At Schmidt's, this was known as "Super" paper. Modern papers, are created in heavier weights, and small presses don't use it anymore. If you put a dozen old Schmidt labels on a table face down, and put the suspected forgeries among them, they will stand out like an elephant in a frog pond.
A FINAL NOTE ON COLOR COPIES
Several years ago, I went to Spain as part of a European adventure for several months to find foreign labels. Throughout the country all kinds of stores had labels, which I collected. But the most startling was an historian of their massive citrus
industry. His collection numbered in the thousands, and a friend of his, had yet another collection numbering about 800. Over the past few years we have traded for hundreds of real Spanish labels for me, and American citrus labels for them. It has been a wonderful relationship. But, as is true in all collections, there are a number of unique pieces (meaning one known), that I will never get. So, in about two-dozen cases, my Spanish friends have used color copiers to make a few copies for my collection. In this way, I can still own the image and show it to people, even if I don't own the original.
Also several years ago, I sold my own Florida citrus collection, but not until after I had made a color copy of every label in it to keep as a reference. A large number of the labels were one of a kind, and I wanted to keep the images. But my interests don't lay in Florida labels, so I sold them. I am, nonetheless, very happy to have a full set of color reference prints.
GIMMICK LABELS ("label-like designs")
There are also a small number of "Gimmick" labels, or, label-like designs, that have been produced, which include labels such as "Frigid Midget", created as a gag by a southern california refrigeration repairman. Another type of gimmick would be the stock labels that were printed to advertise a large public exhibit of orange box labels at a major university. These were not intended for sale necessarily, and the images were not taken directly from rare, collectible real brands. There is a label titled SAN ONOFRE which depicts the San Onofre nuclear power plant spewing waste water into the Pacific ocean. There is also a CENTENNIAL orange label that was produced by the agricultural inspection service for their one hundredth year centennial, and features an image of an officially dressed inspector working in an orange grove. The Rain Bird Sprinkler Manufacturing Corporation of Glendora, California produced a design for their irrigation products in 1979. These labels are intended for fun and not to trick collectors.
Two other labels that find their roots in fruit label art, come from Bloomfield Farms in Santa Clara. These two labels were used on boxes of FIREWOOD in the form of split oak and madrone logs. Bloomfield farms also had labels for cherries and other fruits over the decades. These two labels, however, were for firewood, which, after all, is an agricultural product. Another popular use for labels, it seems, is as ads for exhibits of other labels. Exhibit advertisers usually use a fairly abundant label for this purpose, and print only a small number of them.
HOW MANY REAL LABELS WERE/ARE THERE?
The question has often been asked, "How many labels were there?" There really is no way to tell, because there were so many printers, so many packers and small farms, and so many types of produce. However, in a feeble attempt to answer the question, an equation for calculating that figure might be written, something like this:
Multiply 60 lithographers and "job" printers, by an average of fifty years (plus or minus) of production each, times 45 agricultural commodities, times three western states, British
Columbia and the rest (25) of the U.S. agricultural states, times the number of individual packers and shippers who ever labeled their products, times the number of labels they each ordered (including re-designs and informational changes over the years), times the longevity of each brand, plus all the temporary and stock labels used, minus those copies that were unused due to mistakes in printing or closure of the packing house before all the stocks of labels were used, also those that were burned, hauled to the dump, used as scratch-paper, and those destroyed by mice and other pests, times the percentage of labels still being produced and the number of labels yet undiscovered, minus all the labels used on crates......., equals = ?
That's approximately how many labels there were. We think. Then there are all the other countries like Argentina, Tasmania, Australia, South Africa and Canada and Spain to estimate.
Realistically, the question now should be, "how many labels are currently known to exist, that collectors have found?" That's a much easier question.
To figure out this, a database would need to be made of all known collections public and private -- a process which would be a labor of love and take many, many years to compile. Many collectors have made computer files of their collections, but, most of these are for their own personal use and not formatted to be usefully included in the present working databases for this guide. Even so, this would still only represent a portion of what is out there.
Currently there are estimates for American brands alone, of over 3,000 coastal pear brands, 6,000 coastal apples, 8 to 15-20 thousand American citrus label varieties, and probably about 100,000 different miscellaneous fruit and vegetable labels across the country, used for all fresh commodities. So far, that's 125,000. Frankly, no one will ever know how many different labels were used, there is simply no way to tell. Not all labels were copyrighted, so, official files only represent a small portion of the overall. Don't forget, too, that it is likely an equal number of can labels were designed and used for canned fruits and vegetables during the same century, from most of the same regions and by many of the same printers. No matter how the estimating is done, the top figure for FRESH fruit and vegetable labels, world-wide, for the past 125 years, is probably about 200,000 different, but, this would be hard to prove.
COPYRIGHT LAW and infringement costs
As I have said, I am not a copyright lawyer. If you intend to utilize label images for any reason, I really suggest you hire one and ask them how and if to proceed. If you try to publish protected images without permission and the owner finds out -- depending on the extent of the infringement -- they may send you a nice letter telling you to "desist and refrain" or "cease and desist" order to discontinue manufacturing, recall stocks from store shelves, prove destruction of photos, advertising bearing, printing plates and all stocks bearing the image(s). You may be audited so the firm can asses the infringement, and you may be held liable for damages, attorney's fees, and much more. The costs of infringement can range from a slap on the hand, to a multi-million dollar law suit.
COST OF PRODUCTION NOWADAYS
You must consider modern costs of production versus the potential marketplace profitability. Whether you will need a few cases of t-shirts and a load of iron-on transfers, or a series of coffee-mugs, you have to buy raw product and art, then manufacturer, package, store, ship, sell and deal with the product. These costs are not for the timid. And, if you pay a company to handle it, you makee far less profit.
HOBBY PROTECTION LAWS
I have heard of a National Hobby Protection Act, which I have never seen. It stands to reason that laws exist to fend of would-be forgers in any hobby or collectibles, like stamps or coins or other expensive collectibles, and perhaps statutes under various fair trade and unfair competition rules, or prosacutory proceedures against counterfeiting goods. You need an attorney for all that.
Labels meeting certain legal criteria may be deemed in the public domain. For labels, this generally means a specific amount of time from when a copyright beigns and ends, without being renewed. Most labels before 1920 are said to be in the public domain. But that does not mean no one as rights to its use. Contact an attorney to do copyright searches, and due-diligence attempts to contact possible owners before marketing any images you are not sure of. Despite everything I have said here, some labels are old, and rare, and beautiful and free of claim, and anyone can do whatever they want with it. That still does not mean you will meet with any success doing so.
Some people say "a copyright only lasts the artist's lifetime plus fifty years" which may be true in original art made by an artist. But, labels were designed by a staff artist in a lithograph company who may have died in 1930, but the label is owned this very day by the fruit-shipping firm who ordered it's design in the first place. And, a label from the 1910s can still be under copyright, even though the artist is dead and the printing firm is gone.
PATCO LICENSING PROCEEDURES
If you have an interest in pursuing licensing further, or perusing my sample licensing contract, <click here>
If you have questions about my qualifications <click here> and <here>
If you have read this entire page, and still have a specific question, feel free to contact me <email Pat> I would be open to all input, corrections, comments, ideas and suggestions, good, bad or otherwise. Thanks! -- Pat
(Last update: 6/03)