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Luggage Label Art Adorned Suitcases as Early as the 1800s

The Art of the Luggage Label

Trying to pick out your suitcase at the airport can be a maddening experience, as 99% of the cases circling the carousel are usually a monochromatic black. Many travelers now differentiate their bag with colored ribbons on the handles.

Years ago, when travel was mostly by steamship or rail, passengers would routinely apply travel labels to their suitcases and trunks to show off places they’ve been. The artwork on most of these labels is outstanding, as collectors such as the late Dr. Azevedo Pereira of Lisbon amassed 50,000 labels.

The earliest known label is from the late 1800s. Before the printing of commercial labels, travelers would fashion their own from hotel stationery letterheads and affix them to suitcases and trunks. Eventually, hotels created labels to advertise their brand, first with line drawings that usually depicted the site, lithographed in one or two colors. In time, unheralded artists illustrated more elaborate labels.

The “Golden Age” of luggage labels began in the 1900s as travel in Europe became more popular, with no passports necessary throughout the European countries. The progressive evolution of fine art influenced labels, focusing on Art Nouveau that in turn gave way to “Style Moderne,” better known at Art Deco, reflecting an emphasis on hard-edged geometric shapes and bright colors.

One prolific printing company that created labels for hotels was Richter & Co. of Naples, Italy. The majority of Richter’s labels were the work of two of their greatest artists, Mario Borgoni and J. Paschal, who often signed their work. Other prominent artists, including the forgotten American master Dan Sweeney, painted masterful portraits of exotic people and scenes from the Far East; Swiss-born Erik Nitsche created multi-colored Art Deco labels in Paris, before moving to America where he continued his graphic design career by doing covers for fashion and travel magazines.

Label production peaked just before the 1929 stock-market crash and never fully recovered, though in the late 1930s a comeback was in force as travelers returned to faraway locales, displaying their globe-hopping through colorful labels on their luggage. With the advent of soft suitcases and airline travel for the masses, the disappearance of these once-grand tokens of travel was swift. The Golden Age of travel stickers has faded, but surviving examples of the graphic artists’ work still exists in collections and on Ebay.

Luggage labels from collector, Richard Dowdy of Studio 2055.  For full view, click on the image.

To share your stories, collection or request information from Richard Dowdy, call 760-729-8205 or email


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