‘Bottles, boxes and jars’, held in the John Oxley Library at State Library of Queensland, is a collection of refreshing labels for refreshing products.
Many are for fizzy drinks but a few identify other products. All are trailblazers.
The labels span a considerable time and distance. In this small collection one is reminded of regional manufacturing across Queensland as well as the history of migration – family businesses with names such as Wimmer, Hanush and Tramacchi alongside Stewart, Barnes and Thomas.
The names of products – or lack of – are intriguing and fun. From Lime Fruity, Dandy Shandy, Krinkly and Tru-Pash to a product called Anything.
Typography is the overwhelming first impression of this collection. Condensed fonts are frequently used but it is the use of capitals that is ubiquitous. Outlined type, drop shadows and reversed letters feature, sometimes on the same word, but of most interest is the use of hand drawn and mechanical type, sometimes on the same label.
Shape, colour and text also tell a story of the times. Some labels are purely functional. Volume of contents was obviously voluntary. Others seize this opportunity to sell an idea (Quality tells) or make a claim (Refreshes the body by purifying the blood). Many of the labels are oval. Businesses use the same shape for their labels, indicating an era where identifying a product type was the norm rather than using a unique shape to identify a company.
The ‘Trulem’ label shows a sophisticated marriage of typography, illustration and colour appropriate to the reproduction process. It is a label dense with content yet its design successfully achieves a hierarchy of information making it easy to digest. It also introduces us to the word ‘preservatised’.
The modest label for Lionel Brand Worcestershire Sauce is unique in this collection. While it is a rudimentary single colour reproduction it is one of the few labels that gives benefits as well as description and instruction. An illustration of a lion with a large outlined, drop shadow ‘L’ placed over the image makes a suitably modest symbol, predictable by todays standard but a precursor to a logo.
My favourite label is ‘Norman’ tomato sauce. I can visualise the diecut shape of the label on the bottle, the beautiful illustration capturing the quality of the contents, the restraint in the number of colours and where they are used, the hand lettering and the full stop at the end of it all.
There is a charming character to this collection. It reflects a simpler time when messages were direct and functional. Hand rendering was evident and expert, matching the requirements and limitations of the reproduction processes of the time.