Friday, January 11, 2013

The Art of the Luggage Label

Tom Schifanella, a Florida based graphic designer and ad exec, loved buying vintage travel posters (mostly Art Nouveau to Mid Century Modern) until prices escalated in the late 1980s. Then one day at a local antique show, Tom realized he could pick up luggage labels --often miniature versions of the same travel posters he loved--for a fraction of the cost. ''They were usually considered an afterthought by dealers,'' he explains. Tom started buying up all the labels he could find locally, scouting them on frequent trips to New York and London and trading duplicates with dealers and other collectors. ''I quickly realized that you could amass a pretty significant collection on a limited budget and began to acquire as many as I could get my hands on,'' he says.

Today Tom estimates his collection numbers somewhere around 7000 labels, plus another 600 historic travel-related items.

''Luggage labels are fascinating bits of hotel history from the golden age of travel, roughly the 1900's to 1960's,'' Tom explains. ''The labels were used by hotels as advertising and eagerly applied to steamer trunks, suitcases and all sorts of luggage by hotel staff, mainly bellhops.'' 

Along with other bits of travel ephemera, Tom displays the bulk of his vast collection on his wonderful Flickr site here. ''My goal is to create an online visual resource for collectors that will educate and inform,'' he says. ''Eventually I'd like to have one of the most comprehensive collections of labels on the web. And one of the best ways to do this is by encouraging other collectors to add to the images to the site.'' So if you have labels, Tom would love to hear from you.  

Tom has his favorites, of course, such as those from the great label printers and artists of the 1930's. ''Printers such as BRÜGGER of Meiringen, Richter & Co and A. TRÜB & Cie of Aarau produced some fantastic labels during this time period using stone lithography, engraving and chromolithography,'' he said in a recent interview on the blog Ephemera. ''Artists such as Roger Broders, Jan Lavies, Erik Nitsche, Mario Borgoni, J. Pashal and Charles Kuhn worked with these printers to produce label designs of exceptional quality.'' 

On Flickr, Tom has his labels organized beautiful by theme, geography and subject. For example, you can see all the France labels here...and Paris labels here...and labels by the printer Richter & Co. here...and labels from the Belle Epoque here...and labels from North America and Canada here...

Tom also displays labels belonging to fellow collectors, such as Joao Mimoso and György Rázsó, among others.

If you're thinking luggage labels might be fun to collect, Tom's best tip is is to buy what interests you, not what you think is a good investment Meanwhile he sells a few labels on Ebay; you can see that page here. For advertising and marketing purposes, Tom makes high-res digital images of his labels available; just email him ( for more info. Tom's love affair with luggage labels is like a little vacation and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did...

Photos: A grid made from some of Tom's French labels...and a few favorites from the South of France. 

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  1. Love that...What an impressive collection.. Takes less space than my hotel amenities collection and last longer. A good idea.

  2. What a really cool idea! What a colorful collection! If I were younger, I would consider beginning my own collection! Nice post!

  3. I just love this! I wish that I had the collection. All we have are some of the post card posters ........

  4. Wow! Nice information about luggage labels...thanks for sharing…
    Best Label Printing

  5. Where did you find it? I miss it so much..perhaps out of fashion?.. and it would be great when hotels give you a sticker
    instead of a weak welcome drink.

  6. A wonderful collection but is it out of fashion to get it? Travel a lot but never get offered a LL even in 5* hotels. Where did you find it? I would rather get a LL than a weak welcome drink.

  7. Sorry for asking where I can get it. Didn''t read carefully enough, perhaps got too much distructed by looking at these labels.



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