Produce crate labels are part of Manatee's agricultural history

Produce crate labels are part of Manatee's agricultural history

nwilliams@bradenton.comOctober 3, 2012 

PALMETTO -- As far as popular collectibles go, post cards, baseball cards and comic books probably rank at the top of the list.

Old fruit and vegetable crate labels? Maybe not as much.

But many view the labels as lost treasures from produce businesses no longer in operation. And for the second consecutive year, the Manatee Agricultural Museum will host a crate label swap meet to display and trade these rare finds.

"Crate labels are art," said Diane Ingram, museum coordinator. "Not only do you have history, but artwork as well."

The event will take place 9 a.m. - 1 p.m. Oct. 6 in the Carnegie Library in Palmetto Historical Park, 515 10th Ave. W. The swap meet will be held in association with a community yard sale and will feature several labels from former Manatee producers.

Jim Thielen, lead organizer of the event, said the swap meet is the only one of its kind on the west coast of Florida. Thielen and two fourth-generation growers from Florida will supply several labels, many of which will be for sale.

"There is a very limited number of crate labels out there," he said. "The crates were part of advertising for shipments that went north. They are very colorful and they represented the local area."

Thielen, who lives in Parrish, has collected crate labels for 14 years. His collection surpasses 1,200 labels representing fruit and vegetable packing companies across the globe, including Native American labels. Some of his labels are samples saved by printing companies or were taken off crates found in former packing houses. He said some of the labels are worth thousands of dollars.

"These labels represent a time that is long gone and an industry that is not what it used to be," he said. "They tell stories of families who settled this area."

The museum, located at 1015 6th Street W in Palmetto, will showcase two cases of produce labels and visitors can also view Native American labels on the library's top floor. Thielen will provide authentic box crates as well.

To find some of the labels, Thielen said he's scavenged old barns and packing houses. Once in his possession, he delicately soaks the crates to remove the labels.

"I'll bring in some labels from packing houses that haven't been heard from for decades," he said.

"To have something original that was manufactured by an original packing company, you have history," Ingram said.

For more information on the swap meet, contact Jim Thielen at 941-776-9444 or call the museum at (941) 721-2034.

Nick Williams, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411 ext. 7049. Twitter:@_1NickWilliams

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