Hotel Luggage Labels
by Patrick Sweeney
As interesting ephemera, hotel luggage labels are a mix of contradictions. For example,a cluster of hotel labels on the scuffed leather suitcase in the photo is today's almost universal graphic symbol of travel. Yet, new luggage labels simply don't exist. Try asking for one at the front desk of the next hotel you visit.
And while hotel luggage labels pasted on a trunk or suitcase might be the commonly accepted format, the labels desired by collectors and ephemerists are unused, pristine specimens that were never attached to luggage. Presumably, the early traveler got one label for the suitcase and another one for the scrapbook. It's the ones from the scrapbooks that collectors prize.
The golden era of hotel luggage labels ranged from about 1875 to the 1950s. Hotels designed and printed them to promote their establishments. Travelers gathered and pasted them as honor badges of their wide-ranging experience. As labels grew in favor, hotels tried to outdo each other with ever-larger labels and elaborate designs. Labels started to disappear as soft sided luggage came into favor and chains replaced individually owned and managed venues.
Hotel luggage labels make for interesting history. For example, consider the composite image of various Bristol Hotel labels. As Victorian-era travelers grew more discerning, individual venues needed to convey a quality image to promote themselves. The many worldwide Bristol hotels of the golden age of travel were unaffiliated as the different independent establishment assumed the name Bristol to attract new customers.
Vintage hotel luggage labels are widely available. However, new collectors need to be careful choosing their supply sources as reproductions and newly-printed labels are commonly promoted, often by inexperienced dealers.