What do your grocery cupboard, medicine cabinet and cosmetics cupboard all have in common? They all contain products with labels. They’re all around us. So, how did they become what they are today and why are they so important?
Labels appeared 400 years ago and have evolved with time. A lot has changed from the first labels in the 17th century to the labels we use today. So, we’ve compiled a brief history of how labels have evolved over the last 400 years.

images (1)17th and 18th Century
During the 1600’s reading and writing was a rare skill which meant that although crude labels were used for transported goods and apothecary medicines, labels could not make any prominent developments during this time. In the 1700’s every respectable winery had printed wine labels. All wine labels were printed on handmade paper by a wooden press and glued to the product.


19th Century

The Industrial Revolution changed everything in the 1800’s. Literacy and education had increased considerably. Canning and bottling becomemore prominent, labelling and providing brand names for these containers became crucial.ed1b6675df8381a3657f33ebb65cf97b
In the late 19th century papermaking machines and lithography created the opportunity to produce long runs of the samequality labels, in sheeted form and, thanks to the development of colour printing in the 1850’s and 1860’s, in colour. In the 1880’s gumming pre-printed paper popularized with animal glue, sheet by sheet. In 1886 the first gummed paper type was produced for parcel sealing.

1900’s – 1940’s
In 1905 the patent was purchased by Samuel Jones & Company, Ltd. for non-curling, pre-gummed paper for labels. During the 1930’s and 1940’s instantaneous heat seal labels were developed along with automatic application which lead to the decline of pre-gummed paper.

The 1950’s and 1960’s saw a growth in the popularity of lick and stick stamps as well as an increase of wet glue application to labels and the development of brand identity. In 1974 the barcode was introduced, making it possible for labels to contain large amounts of information. Now used in almost every shop and industry, it plays an important role in logistics and storage. The first barcode scanned product was Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit chewing gum.

1980’s – 2000’s

Human hands holding smart phone with qr code on it

During the 1980’s developments led to shrink sleeve labelling and blow moulded containers for haircare and household goods. In the

1990’s a variety of developments were made such as: stretch-sleeve labelling, wrap-around film labelling, cut-and-stack film labelling, roll-on-shrink-on labelling and spot patch labelling, used primarily for soft drinks. The 2000’s saw the introduction of VIP and digital printing as well as smart labels and packaging.

Labels have come a long way in the last 400 years and will remain a vital element in packaging, providing crucial information and marketing a product. The next time you see a label, remember the journey it has made to become what it is today.