Why Were Luggage Labels Created?

A little history, with examples, of Luggage Labels.
Two ship and one train luggage label, plus Laughing Elephant's box of travel labels

Laughing Elephant has selected a group of labels put out by ships in the Golden Age of Travel, namely the 1920s and 30s, and offers a box of them. These ships were as elegant as these stylish labels suggest.

Somewhere in the middle of the 19th century ocean liners began the practice of attaching labels to their passengers’ suitcases. These usually indicated the class of cabin of the passenger, making luggage sorting simpler. They also, sometimes, contained the destination of the ship to help with dockside sorting.

Laughing Elephant Luggage Labels of Grand Hotels, with examples.

These three labels were made for three Grand Hotels. This designation was reserved for hotels that made a special effort to provide luxury and elegance for their guests, as well as being, usually, in a place that wealthy travelers wanted to visit. Our modern equivalent would be a five star hotel, though few modern hotels offer the grandeur of some of the old Grand Hotels. Staying at one of them, and having its label on your luggage, was definitely a status symbol.

In the late 1870s hotels started placing labels on their guests’ suitcases and trunks. Often the labels were sent to the guest in advance to help porters sort luggage at the train or boat side. The motive was primarily self-advertising, and the labels evolved in design sophistication as their effectiveness became obvious. Because there were so many hotels in the world there were endless thousands of different labels produced

Three airline luggage labels and Laughing Elephant's box of reproduced labels.

These three airline labels show some of the splendid design and printing that went into their production. Airline companies were appealing to a well-to-do audience, for whom air travel was a romantic and novel experience. There were no security lines, no baggage screening, no long waits in a claustrophobia-inducing tunnel, roomy seats and few seat belts, and meals on china plates. What luxury!

Railroads shortly followed, but here string tags were often preferred, and the same effort was not spent on the design of their labels as on those of hotels, ships or even airlines, which were a later development. The first airline labels probably date from the 1920s. Despite their late arrival, airlines, even very small ones, made many attractive labels and are a rich field for collectors.

Luggage Label Stickers

Golden Age of Transport

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