Most New York State grape labels featured a lake in the title or background.
Most label collectors in the Pacific Northwest are familiar with California grape labels and may even have some in their collections. They are generally colorful, plentiful, and inexpensive to acquire. However, very few of these collectors also know about, much less own, New York State grape basket and box labels—even though some of these labels rank with the most beautiful of any of the grape labels printed anywhere. Most eastern United States grapes were grown in the western part of New York State in two general areas.
The first region is a narrow "grape belt" (no more than five miles wide) that starts just south of Buffalo and runs parallel to Lake Erie in a southwesterly direction to the outskirts of Erie, Pennsylvania. The second region comprises the lands where vineyards were planted in the mid-1800s around the Finger Lakes. The first of these Finger Lakes vines were cultivated in the vicinity of Lake Keuka, but, as time passed the vineyards spread east to the shores of Lake Seneca and west to Lake Canandaigua and then Lake Chautauqua at the extreme western edge of New York State. Over the years, the four primary grape varieties grown commercially have been Concord, Niagara, Delaware, and Catawba.
Most types of New York grapes were packed in a wooden tublike basket with a thin wood slat top on which a label was placed for identification and advertising. Although the wooden top had rounded corners, the label had an elongated octagonal shape, generally four inches by eight inches to five inches by ten inches in size.
In the far western New York regions around Lake Chautauqua, a rectangular basket or box was used; this was a smaller container for the grapes and required a smaller label that measured only about four inches by six inches. They were in use for about 50 years, from the 1890s into the 1940s, and the most attractive were those that were stone-lithographed.
One of the more interesting features of the New York State grape labels is the fact that since all the cultivation took place near a lake, most designs feature at least one lake printed in the title or pictured in the background. This characteristic is also due to tourism promotion efforts to attract vacationers to the resorts, playgrounds, beaches, and natural wonders that are part of the Finger Lakes’ appeal. Most were printed by the local regional newspaper, the Penn Yan Chronicle, which is still in business today.