Egg and cress

Vintage food labels in box

This post is about a set of things. Not often read about here, it’s true. But some things shouldn’t be separated one from their others.

In the days before cling film, shrink-wrap and other see-through plastics – food was labelled by, erm, sticking a label in it. Usually a plain label, with just the food name written upon it. Or perhaps, more often, the name and the cost of the food by weight.

I usually prefer the plain no nonsense approach to labelling. But this set of illustrated labels (all below) are the exception that prove a little bit more is sometimes a little bit more.

I have no idea where these were made, although it was somewhere ‘foreign’ as one label has that stamped on it’s back. I am not very sure of their date but I’d hazard a guess at early 1920s, judging by the plastic. And they came to me squished in to a little cardboard box from somewhere in London. They have probably lain in that box since the 1920s.

But what thought has gone in to the illustrations for such a seemingly inconsequential set of things. The egg is joyous, the egg and cress more joyous. The waving crab would sell itself to a vegetarian. The monocled salmon comes smoked, or not. One cheese seems to be turning its nose up at a smellier cheese. The ham has a tutu and the cucumber wears what appear to be hobnail boots. The poor old chicken, meanwhile, seems to be in his cooking pot already.

I can only imagine how these must have perked up the food display in a grocer shop. For they most certainly perk me up.

1920s plastic food labels


  • Mark says:

    Lovely and strange, do you think they’re for sandwich fillings (Egg and Cress must be)? Jellied tongue sandwich… Not high on my list of favourites.

  • shelf appeal says:

    YES, I suppose they must be sandwich things. But presumably if you asked for cucumber you could have it without the boots?

  • shelf appeal says:

    Oh, or perhaps they are party things, I hadn’t thought about that.

  • Philip says:

    … and for unusually vegetarians have a very good choice of sandwich options – would love to see an updated version of these, Brie & Cranberry, sun dried tomato and mozzarella, stilton, pear and walnut – a marketing opportunity? … these cheered me up today – thank you Jane

  • shelf appeal says:

    I like the idea of stilton, pear and walnut looking at each other on one small plastic label..

  • crownfolio says:

    Arriving late to the party (is there any food left?), I also think they might be for sandwiches. I’ve got a 1950s set – although not one quarter as delightful as these – which I know are for sandwiches, as they are still in the original packaging which tells me so.

    I’ve also got some grocer’s labels, which are big, brash and much more concerned with price. There is a lovely one which just says “FOREIGN’ which I could stick into all sorts of things.

  • shelf appeal says:

    Well, the consensus is sandwich markers. I think that is equally as lovely as them being grocers labels. Would that I’d been to the party where the sandwiches were both this fancy and labelled this fancily.

  • Mark says:

    I like to think you will use them for your packed lunches. You may have forgotten what filling you’ve made earlier that day until you took the lid off your tupperware box and was greeted with a cheerful reminder . You would be the envy of fellow lunchers with your best-dressed sandwich.

  • shelf appeal says:

    Your best-dressed tongue sandwich.

  • Joe says:

    Ox tongue is excellent and makes great sandwiches. My dad used to press his own using two 5 litre oil cans as a weight.

  • Mark says:

    Press his own tongue? Blimey.

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