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Shamrocks for a Glam Box: Placentia Mutual's Signature Brand

Shamrock Brand Citrus Crate Label, 1930-1939
Western Lithograph Company (American, 1908-1985); Los Angeles, California
Chromolithograph; 10 x 10 ¾ in.
Gift of Mr. Andrew E. Coen
St. Patrick’s Day
Stereotypical symbols like leprechauns and their pots of gold may seem hackneyed, but the shamrock—characteristically a species of three-leaf clover—stands as an important icon of Ireland which would have been meaningful to both the native Celtic peoples as a ward against evil, and useful for the original Saint Patrick in explaining the holy Trinity to Celts as he converted Ireland to Catholicism in the 5th Century. As people of Irish descent spread across the globe they took the symbol of the shamrock with them. Now it is used every March 17th to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day across the globe. In this post we examine the Shamrock brand citrus crate label created by the Placentia Mutual Orange Association (PMOA) and take a look at why it might have been chosen to sell citrus so far away from Ireland.
John C. Tuffree
From Find a Grave
Tuffree or not Tuffree
Though one might expect the creators of the Shamrock label to have originally hailed from the Emerald Isles, the brand’s origins are not so easily explained. As we have previously discussed on the blog, citrus crate labels were first used in California in the late 19th Century as a way of making particular growers’ fruit stand out from the immense volume being produced. During the heyday of citrus crate labels between 1880 and 1955, it is estimated that over 8,000 crate labels were designed. During the 1930s the Shamrock label was the exclusive brand of the PMOA, part of the much larger Sunkist Growers cooperative. Up until at least the end of the 1930s when the Shamrock label was made, it was still under the ownership of its founding president, John C. Tuffree, and Samuel Kraemer who built their original packing house in 1911. Interestingly Kraemer came from a family of two German immigrants and Tuffree is a bastardization of a French name; his mother was from Peru.
Pulp Historical Fiction
The philosophy of crate label design evolved over the years, but the general consensus during the ‘30s when Shamrock was made was that the designs should be colorful and speak to the consumer rather than the producer. This perhaps does something to explain why Shamrock might have been chosen even when considering the backgrounds of Tuffree and Kraemer. The PMOA went one step further though, and in the 1930s created a whole line of citrus crate labels, each of which corresponded to the different countries of the United Kingdom: Albion for England, Caledonia for Scotland, and Cambria for Wales. Though Shamrock falls slightly outside of this formula, it is likely the fourth in this set. Considering the subject, it would be fitting to chalk it up to luck that it was the most popular of the PMOA’s brands.
The PMOA's other labels referencing the countries of the United Kingdom
UCR Library, Special Collections and University Archives
Something Crate in Label Hands
While it was the packing company that came to printers with brand names, it was the printer who breathed life into their ideas. Shamrock was designed by the Western Lithographic Company, a Los Angeles printer who created hundreds of citrus crate labels between 1900 and 1955. Western Litho. was one of the two major printers in Los Angeles at the turn of the Century and set itself apart with an incredibly skilled staff who are remembered among collectors for having designed Southern California’s finest citrus crate labels. Many times, even a single brand, such as Shamrock would have as many as six different designs as a new variation was made to sell oranges, lemons, grapefruit or any other citrus being packaged at a plant. These variations are particularly charming for Shamrock, where the fruit growing on the trees in the background of each image changes respective to what is being crated.
Another variant of the Shamrock brand
UCR Library, Special Collections and University Archives
Shamrock Shake
Even coopted for use selling citrus by the PMOA, the shamrock was still a source of empowerment and national pride for Irish-Americans. Nothing else could explain the success of the brand which saw its best sales in the immigrant rich city of New York. Perhaps somewhere in the back of the minds of John Tuffree and Samuel Kraemer as they selected the shamrock to sell their citrus was the thought that Saint Patrick had once had success winning hearts and minds using the three-leaf clover, maybe they just thought it would give them that extra bit of luck they needed. Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!
Text and images may be under copyright. Please contact Collection Department for permission to use. Information subject to change upon further research.
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Lucy Lewis (1898-1992)

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