YAKIMA — Produce labels identify and advertise. They feature original art and hint at history. Sometimes, it’s personal history.
Walter Lindsey, an apple crate label hobbyist and collector who is one of the Yakima Valley Museum’s label curators, showed off a particularly rare acquisition — a West Valley Apples label from Grover Marley’s G.M. Orchards in Yakima. He first saw it on Craigslist, still affixed to its wooden box.
“Here’s one I found in Chicago a couple years ago. We didn’t even know it existed. The family didn’t know,” Lindsey said of G.M. Orchards. Lindsey learned after some research that Marley was from the Wenatchee area and moved to the Valley to start his own orchard and packing business.
“It’s like anything else — it’s always the hunt,” added Lindsey, whose personal collection includes around 2,400 labels.
On Saturday, fans and collectors can add to or possibly pare their collections, ask questions of more than a dozen dealers and other experts or just admire the artwork at the 34th annual Fruit Label Swap Meet. It takes place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the museum in Yakima and event admission is free.
“We will have a lot of very knowledgeable people there,” Lindsey said. “If you happen to find a family label there, there’s plenty of people who know about the labels.”
Produce labels are an integral part of the Valley’s rich agricultural history. West Coast growers began using labels in the early 1900s to promote produce from the region. The museum has an impressive collection of about 4,000 vintage produce labels, and longtime museum director John A. Baule created another exhaustive resource in writing “The Ultimate Fruit Label Book.”
“No one really knows an exact number” of how many labels were created for Valley farmers, “but for apple labels, we believe there are upward of 6,000,” Lindsey said.
It’s fascinating to see the variety of images used to market Valley produce, mostly apples. They range from stern Vikings to adorable kids, familiar pets to exotic creatures, Mount Adams and picturesque buildings like the tall stone tower of Congdon castle in Yakima, featured on a Congdon Orchards label. An original version of this rare label would probably sell for around $600, Lindsey said. Congdon is one of the oldest continuously operating fruit ranches in the state.