I am not a number, I am a fruit man

On the Friday before this one, I did what is called a cliffhanger, sort of promising to do a sequel to that day’s post, a sequel in which I would reveal what was written on the sticker that had been glued to the skin of a satsuma that I had eaten, apart from the word “satsuma” in white uppercase letters on a dark blue background.

You’ll be glad to know that I keep my promises, and to that end I am about to do the big revelation. There were hints that I might have done it on Tuesday, and I jolly well did try – I was feverishly typing at midnight and everything – but in the end it is fortunate that I’d had the foresight to use the word “perhaps”. Still, it is less worse to be late than it is to be very late, I think.

Now, to business. The label is ovoidial, with two axes of symmetry. Below the word “satsuma” is a hash symbol, immediately followed by – in marginally bigger type than everything else – the number 3029. The typeface seems to be Friz Quadrata. Encircling the text, parallel to the perimeter of the label, is a thin white line.

What is the relevance of the hash? It is nothing to do with the things off of Twitter. It is not a handy pre-drawn noughts and crosses grid, being far too small, and having far too dark a background, for that. It is neither beef nor cannabis. In fact, what is relevant is that in Canada the hash is known as the “number sign”. Great, but what is the relevance of the number?

Oh look, it is a “PLU code”. A website exists, into which such codes can be entered to identify the corresponding fruit. It sounds useless – my satsuma was obviously a satsuma, given that the label said “satsuma” on it and everything – but that point of view is short-sighted. Organicness and genetic modification are less instantly discernible, for instance. (My satsuma was not organic, which is a shame, because I quite like organs.)

It is comforting to know that, just as we can put people on the moon, we have a sophisticated system for identifying fruitses. Or maybe it isn’t, maybe it is wrong that so much time has been invested into classifying produce, when there are far more pertinent problems to be solved. I don’t know.

That website is named Fruit Sticker. Another website exists, named Fruit Labels. (They are confusingly similar names, and I hate it when that occurs in books, but this time it is not my fault.)

Fruit Labels is a section of the website of Roger Harris. If Fruit Sticker seems a bit close to pointlessness, Fruit Labels takes that to a bit of a new level – and I think I prefer it for that reason.

Harris is a fruxafixographologist, a collector of fruit labels (he does other things as well). His site – over a decade old, and (a bit unsurprisingly) claiming to be the first of its kind – boasts over 1000 images of different stickers from off of fruits (and some vegetables).

Has Harris been wasting (a probably quite small portion of) his life? I don’t think so. I’m sure it has been very fruitful, ha ha ha.

No, seriously, it’s a bit interesting to see the changing designs of the stickers over time and stuff. More and more often, fruit firms’ website addresses are included, for instance, and perhaps there are other design trends to pick out. Most of all, a lot of the labels just look rather nice – the designers have coped well with the constraints of often sub-postage stamp dimensions. I don’t know whether a fruit label can be much of a bellwether for the wider world, a social history, but that’s OK.

(One interesting is that that in November 2000, certain Granny Smith labels featured an Ask.com marketing wheeze. On-sticker advertising has never really taken off, though, which is perhaps a bit of a relief.)

The site’s introduction is worth reading. I might have liked to do some observations about the label on fruit here, but Roger Harris has done it very well already, so it would be pointless. There is some surprising stuff in there, engagingly written. Read it. I suppose I am a bit jealous, because I shall have to write about something else. Sorry. (It is probably a relief.)

It could be tempting to jump onto the bandwagon. My satsuma label has gone in the bin, but quite by accident I am still in the vicinity of three different fruit labels, none of which have twins in that collection. I could send them in, but that’s actually unlikely. What isn’t unlikely, and is in fact likely, is that they’ll remain glued to an empty marmalade jar. That is the normal thing. Roger Harris, however, had the balls to do something exceptional, to do more with his fruit labels than just festoon the old house of a former breakfast, and I applaud him for that.