Citrus Crate Labels as a 2021 Calendar

Posted on: January 6, 2021

By Victoria Bernal, Women in the Archives Social Media Manager

With 2020 thankfully behind us, this light-hearted 2021 calendar features the attractive citrus crate labels in the Autry’s archive. Citrus crate labels didn’t just sell oranges and lemons in wooden packing crates. These lithographs sold health, leisure, wealth, sunshine and an Eden that was California. Labels were carefully crafted by artists to create eye-catching images that differentiated produce that essentially all looked the same. In describing these designs in his book The Orange and the California Dream, David Boule explained, “Among the most frequently appearing were images that reflected the growing and harvesting of oranges, especially idealized portrayals featuring manicured orchards, beautiful homes, and snow-capped mountains, all warmed by spectacularly sunny skies.” Crate labels were part of the industry’s larger publicity campaign that sold citrus while also luring newcomers to California. And up until the 1950s, thousands of unique designs were produced, many of which can be found throughout California museums, libraries, and archives, including the Autry’s collections. 

These illustrations of halcyon days in the California orchard “concealed more than they revealed,” to take a phrase from Matt Garcia’s book A World of Its Own Race, Labor, and Citrus in the Making of Greater Los Angeles, 1900-1970. As Phobe Kropp articulated in her book California Vieja, “Boosters had portrayed citrus culture as an idealized existence since its inception in the 1870s. Fruit and wealth seemed to drop from the trees with little human effort required.” Yet the industry’s multicultural workforce, which included Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos, Mexicans, and women, was rarely portrayed realistically in these crate labels. If one social media goal for sharing museum images online is to pique followers’ curiosity to investigate further, citrus crate labels provide an accessible introduction to an industry that shaped the mythology and development of Southern California. The wide range of subjects illustrated on citrus crate labels could easily fill a social media calendar full of traditional and quirky holidays, while at the same time inspiring a deeper dive into the history of these seemingly benign images.

A Suggested Citrus Crate Label Calendar for 2021
(see theses labels in The Autry’s Collections Online)

  • January: Squirrel Appreciation Day falls on January 21
  • February: An arrow from Cupid for Valentine’s Day 
  • March: The annual National Orange Show in March was always a popular attraction in San Bernardino
  • April: A tree-themed crate label for Arbor Day, which falls on different days in different states
  • May: Hopefully April showers will bring May Flowers
  • June: Summer vacations often start with a Sea Breeze
  • July: Moon Day celebrates the anniversary of Apollo landing on the moon on July 20
  • August: International Cat Day falls on August 8 
  • September: Hummingbird Day falls on the first Saturday of September 
  • October: A devilish crate label for the spooky season
  • November: Rip Van Winkle should be the poster boy for Movember 
  • December: Poinsettia Day falls on December 12

Publications consulted: 

  • A World of Its Own Race, Labor, and Citrus in the Making of Greater Los Angeles, 1900-1970 by Matt Garcia
  • Labor and Community: Mexican Citrus Worker Villages in a Southern California County, 1900-1950 by Gilbert Gonzalez
  • California Vieja Culture and Memory in a Modern American Place by Phobe Kropp
  • “By Their Fruits Ye Shall Know Them”: “Nature Cross Culture Hybridization” and the California Citrus Industry, 1893-1939 by Douglas Cazaux Sackman published in California History (1995) 74 (1): 82–99

Image Captions

CYCLE Brand Oranges, Fillmore Citrus Association, Fillmore, California, 1940s. Autry Museum; 91.170.114

January: SQUIRREL Brand Oranges, Arlington Heights Fruit Company, Riverside, California, 1930s. Autry Museum; 91.170.406

February: Cupid Brand Valencia Oranges, Fillmore Citrus Association, Fillmore, California, 1920s. Autry Museum; 91.170.113

March: National Orange Show, San Bernardino, California, 1940s. Autry Museum; 91.170.283

April: Tree Top Brand Oranges, Sequoia Citrus Association, Lemon Cove, California, 1940s. Autry Museum; 91.170.451

May: MARIPOSA Brand Valencia Oranges, Mupu Citrus Association, Santa Paula, California, 1930s. Autry Museum; 91.170.254

June: SEA BREEZE Brand Lemons, Carpinteria Mutual Citrus Association, Carpinteria, California, 1930s. Autry Museum; 91.170.616

July: MOON Brand Oranges, Greenspot Citrus Association, Greenspot, California, 1920s. Autry Museum; 91.170.272

August: TOM CAT Brand Lemons, Orosi Foothill Citrus Association, Orosi, California, 1930s. Autry Museum; 91.170.644

September: Humming Bird Brand Valencia Oranges, Tapo Citrus Association, Santa Susana, California, 1930s. Autry Museum; 91.170.207

October: SUN DEVIL Brand Oranges, Consolidated Citrus Growers, Los Angeles, California, 1930s. Autry Museum; 91.170.419

November: OLD RIP brand oranges, O'Bryan and Johnson, Redlands, California, 1920s. Autry Museum. Autry Museum; 91.170.291

December: POINSETTIA brand oranges, Fillmore Citrus Association, Fillmore, California, 1930s. Autry Museum; 91.170.320