Our photo essay originates in England, circa 1957. It was there and then that a colorful package of cheese inspired one person (unknown) to start a collection of dairy labels, neatly organized in a scrapbook. His or her now-vintage collection—found orphaned on eBay—is a virtual journal of cheese branding in the mid-20th century.
Reproduced here, these graphic labels look just as the originals would have if you could step back in time, back to a day when bright, hand-rendered package art was a novelty and innocence wasn’t, long before a blitz of color-soaked multimedia outlets emerged all around us. Once upon this time, artists illustrated a label to tell a story, evoke a feeling, with a single bright image. For many people such labels were the only artwork they saw from week to week.
Some of these artistic styles may seem familiar. Take a look at Heidi, or the slightly scary laughing cow, the princess castle, or the plump chick—think you’ve seen these before, perhaps in a forgotten storybook? Or maybe it’s the memory of a brand, imprinted long ago, that inspired a childhood daydream as you passed the time perched, legs dangling, on your mother’s shopping cart.
Other labels recall the handwork of artists who went on to fame and fortune, lucky to leave the marketing world to its own devices. Cartoonists like Theodor Geisel, who gave us Dr. Seuss, and William Donahey, the creator of the Teenie Weenies, started their careers in commercial art.
Whatever else you glean from this heirloom label collection, it stands as a graphic reminder that the confluence of art, branding, and food can be a powerful thing, revealing as much about ourselves as the world around us.