Last Bite - Low-grade labels highly valued
C labels were used on a small percentage of the apple crop.
Labels of "cooker" grade or C grade apples were usually green, yellow, or white. Today, collectors will often pay more for these rarer labels.
The color of an apple box label generally determined the grade of the fruit. A blue label meant Extra Fancy, a red label meant the second or Fancy grade, and a green, yellow, or white label meant the fruit was rated C (cooker) grade. Naturally, the grower strived to raise mostly Extra Fancy and Fancy fruit because it commanded the best price. Before the 1930s, C grade labels were used probably on less than 10 percent of the apples and pears shipped. Therefore, there were substantially fewer C grade labels printed—with the result that, today, C grade labels usually command a premium of up to two or more times the price a collector will pay for the identical label in red or blue.
The practical elimination of the C grade for fresh-market apples in the state of Washington began at the grade and pack conference held in Yakima, Washington, in 1931. This change was brought about by changing the C grade to an “unclassified” grade, which was so defined as to force trading in this grade on a bulk basis. This decision held great importance. The “unclassified” grade was previously defined as follows: “Apples which do not meet the requirements of C grade or hail grade shall not be wrapped or packed, nor marked by count, nor shall they be shipped or sold in closed containers.” Now, the C grade was to be considered only suitable for cooking, juice, or, eventually, dehydration, and was not to be marketed as fresh fruit. This decision was made legally enforceable in 1935 when the industry was successful in lobbying the Washington State legislature to enact legislation forbidding the sale of C (or unclassified) grade fruit outside the state of Washington as fresh fruit.
The chief arguments advanced by supporters of the unclassified grade were, first, because of the large investment being made by the industry in advertising apples, it seemed advisable to protect the advertised grades by making it impossible to pack up the low-grade apples so they resembled the advertised product. Second, the proponents of the grading change felt that the previously unclassified low-grade apples often competed with C grade (also low grade) apples to such an extent that they forced the C grade apples out of the market. This would result in an overall depression of important market price quotations.
This discussion and grading decision occurred when the growing Washington State acreage planted in apples and pears necessitated new domestic and foreign markets.
Competition for new markets had more chance for success if Washington growers could advertise a higher quality than that being produced in other fruit growing regions. Elimination of the C grade as fresh fruit gave the perception that all marketable fruit from Washington State was Extra Fancy or Fancy—Washington State growers would not tolerate a third lower grade coming out of their orchards. The decision to drop the C grade as a competitive but low grade of fresh fruit was made easier for the grower because the advent of dried or dehydrated fruit processing was on the horizon. These new plants would provide a market for the fruit formally sold as C grade—as did the large commercial apple juice plants then being built.
The 1931 grade and pack conference also resulted in several other changes related to grading and marketing. New requirements that distinguished the grading of the Newtown apple (a popular variety in those days) were written to conform closely to that for the Oregon Newtown. This was done because a considerable tonnage of Newtown was grown in Washington’s White Salmon district, which had growing and production characteristics similar to those for the Newtown apples grown in Oregon across the Columbia River—and there had previously been a feud over grading between the Oregon and the Washington growers.
Finally, the 1931 conference ordered that all apples and pears “…shall be packed in clean boxes.” Receivers of Washington fruit repeatedly had insisted that clean wooden boxes be used. This would seem to be only common sense, but there were chronic offenders who did not want to take the time or trouble to ensure the rule was followed. Putting the “clean box” requirement into the grading rules made the practice subject to enforcement by the state inspection service. The new rule probably increased the production of shiny new pine apple boxes substantially.