Banana Label Collector Interview Rebecca Martz
Recently, I asked readers to suggest stories and interviews they'd like to read here. One loyal reader wanted to see an interview with a banana label collector. I immediately sprung into action and found Rebecca Martz, the owner of a world-class collection of more than 7,400 unique banana labels. Here's what Rebecca had to say about this fascinating genre of ephemera.
ephemera: This is the first interview I've conducted by popular demand. Congratulations. So, how did you become interested in banana labels?
Martz: I have been collecting since 1991. One day I was putting recently purchased bananas into our fruit bowl, which still had a couple of bananas in it. I noticed that the Dole labels that at first glance were the same..some were not. One of them said Guatemala and one said Honduras. That is when I first started looking more carefully at banana labels. In December of that same year, Chiquita put out a label that said, "The Perfect Stocking Stuffer". That amused me, and that became the first label that I kept with the idea of keeping more. I started by sticking any different banana label that I encountered onto a sheet of plastic. I thought I was the only person in the world who collected banana labels. I have come to think of them as little works of art--made for throwing away. And isn't that what ephemera is? They have been used as little billboards to champion a cause or to commemorate or person or place. They are used to advertise TV or movies. They have even been used to make a political protest.
ephemera: Yes, it's true, bananas have a long political history--it's a fascinating fruit and the labels have an almost mystic quality about them. Tell me about how your collection evolved.
Martz: I kept the labels that I had on the sheet of plastic in a kitchen drawer. I did not think about it as a collection. It was just some banana labels that I had. One day a year or two later, I counted and I had 17 banana labels. That is when I noticed that it was really a collection. I thought it was a huge number of different banana labels to have. A friend started to call it my "small but fascinating" collection. I went to visit my sister in Ohio and took them with me to show her. Because they were just stuck onto a loose piece of plastic, on that trip I lost one. When I came home I transferred them into a small plastic photo album. I still did not realize that there were other collectors in the world. Fastforward to about 1996...and the advancement of the Internet. One of my grown sons searched online and found another banana label collector...and another...from there I found a link to Gerri Lorenzo's Banana Label Catalog, and a now sadly defunct produce label newsletter called, Please Stop Snickering.
A collector in Switzerland saw my name and address in the PSS and wrote to me and asked if I wanted to trade. That is how I started trading banana labels. I would never have been able to collect so many different banana labels without trading. What is a common banana label in one place may not appear at all in another location, so trading works out well. In 2000, my youngest child graduated from high school. Anticipating having more time for my hobby, I decided to expand my ever-growing collection. Another son offered to help me make a website for my collection. This has been invaluable in attracting other collectors for trading purposes. I trade with about 50 other collectors on a regular basis and another 50 less frequently. We have had some "conventions" and have had as many as 19 collectors at one. This December we are meeting in Costa Rica and at that convention we hope to have double that number of collectors.
Ephemera: What challenges or obstacles do you encounter in compiling this collection? How do you overcome these challenges?
Martz: I originally thought that my biggest obstacle would be that there would be only a very limited number of different banana labels...100, I guessed? That proved to not be a problem at all! I have more than 1,400 different brands of banana labels and more than 7,400 unique labels in my collection. There is the problem of...what to do with all those bananas. Sometimes the labels leave the store with me...not on a banana. But I usually buy some bananas, although many times each label in the bunch has a label when I buy it. We are moderately fond of bananas, but sometimes I have to give them away, donate them to a food pantry, or simply buy the bananas, take the labels and leave the bananas behind. There is also an obsessive quality to collecting banana labels. Every trip out of the house can easily become a banana-hunting safari. If you pass shops without stopping to check their banana labels, you are sure that that store has a previously-unseen label. You check every friend's fruit bowl. You beg people who are traveling abroad to check the markets. On the computer you check other collectors' sites for labels you don't have. You check for collectors of other items that you can email and offer to trade items that thy are collecting--McDonald's toys? Sugar packets? Newspapers? Tea tags?--for banana labels. Oh, and there is the problem that people do think you are strange or weird. I do find, however, that almost everyone is more understanding when I show them my collection, and explain why I like my labels.
ephemera: Speaking of enjoying your labels, what are your favorite items in the collection? Do you have a crowning jewel or show stopper in your collection? If so, what is it?
Martz: One of my favorite labels is Jacko. It has everything that a collector wants in one label: It has a picture of a pretty little boy, it is old (early 1960s) and it is rare. Those characteristic make the best labels. An early Nina label also impresses me with its beauty. Some labels I like just because they are pretty. Arita, for example. Some I like because they are old and rare (Panchito or DelOro). A set that I am still missing in my collection is a two-label Chiquita set from 1980. These two labels were in commemoration of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. They feature the mascot, Misha. The U.S pulled out of the Moscow Olympics and the labels were never used on bananas. A few sets escaped destruction, and I still hope to add them to my collection.
ephemera: What resources do you recommend for someone interested in starting a banana label colletion?
Martz: Gerri Lorenzo's Banana Label Catalog is a must for checking the variety of labels available. Books that may interest the collector include: Banana. The Fate of the Fruit That Changed The World and Bananas!: How The United Fruit Company Shaped the World.
ephemera: How do you store and display your collection?
Martz: I remove the glue by putting the labels into paint thinner. Then I use a repositionable adhesive stick to adhere the labels to graph paper. I like that because I can easily see the size. The graph paper goes into notebooks that are divided alphabetically. Many collectors put the label (with adhesive removed) into plastic sleeve pages (such as Vario) which are intended for stamp collections. I love my little labels, but I really love having made friends all over the world.
ephemera: Your passion for the collection really shines through in your comments, Rebecca. Thank you for sharing this delightful collection with the readers of the ephemera blog.