Tinning salmon has been part of the North American fishing industry for well over two centuries, and casting an eye back across the images that adorned the tins of canned fish reveals an interesting history. Many of the early labels used provide us with a snapshot of the times, and they also show how labelling has progressed into the marketing era that we find ourselves in today. Ross Coen from University of Washington has been studying labels on tinned food for many years and recently shared some of his findings with KRBD.
Fish packers of yesteryear often used innovative designs that included historic occasions and landmark events on their packaging. From the William Henry Seward label of 1867 that honoured his purchase of Alaska whilst secretary of state, through to the thousands of tins of fish sent across the Atlantic Ocean that showed Queen Victoria on the label, all were made to depict a time or a place relevant to the customers they targeted.
Classic Works Of Art
Many of these early labels are now highly prized possessions, and collectors will pay a princely sum for some of the rarer labels. The market is such largely because of the work that artists put into making these labels stand out on the shelves. Some of the impressions are simply works of art, and amongst the most sought after labels are those that never even made it to the grocery store.
Labels in pristine condition are still being found in envelopes across North America and beyond via house and office clearances. Old filing cabinets and desks can still turn out some surprising examples of labelling that were hitherto unseen by experts in the field.
The Art Of Subtle Persuasion
Although much of the labelling industry of the time concentrated on these historical events to capture the hearts and minds of those buying the product, the early days of marketing as we now know it are also in evidence too.
Take, for example, the Ketchikan based company Lynx Brand. One of their labels, which were produced in the late 1800s and early 1900s, includes the image of a gentleman happily fishing all alone on the banks of an Alaskan river, doing battle with his quarry on rod and line. While this depiction is indeed one of an Alaskan salmon being caught, it bears no resemblance to they way in which the commercially caught fish that the tins contain are actually harvested for the packaging industry.
However, to the housewife of the day perusing the shelves of her local grocery store, such images would have undoubtedly given her the impression that the product contained within the tin container was indeed freshly caught and wholesome.
Comparison To Modern Marketing Methods
While it is clear that you are looking at a labels from a bygone era when surveying these artefacts, their purpose remains the same as that of today’s labelling industry. Great labels were then, and are now, essential if you wanted your item to sell well to the public.
Even with the rise of modern media, from the television age through to the digital revolution that we are currently at the heart of, labelling remains hugely important when it comes to effective marketing. While the imagery may have changed, the core goal of good labelling is still the same as it ever was – to sell more goods.
About The Author
Rob Lorkins works for the leading UK label manufacturer, Labelnet. Based in Ongar, Essex, Labelnet design and manufacture high quality branded labels, stickers and packaging.