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History of Stickers – Timeline

Our previous post on the history of stickers continues to be a favorite among readers. In honor of National Sticker Day (January 13, 2018), we thought we’d flesh it out a bit more with a timeline of some of the major events that made the label and sticker market what it is today.

Depending on how you define “sticker,” the earliest known labels may well be Egyptian, from between 3000-300 BC. Market stall owners used stickers to post product prices and other information. The labels were probably stuck to the stalls using animal-based glues. More modern events are catalogued in the timeline below.

1700s

Tax/Revenue Stamps

Tax and Revenue stamps, usually affixed to documents and products with a gummy glue applied separately, were used by most governments during this time. Famously, the imposition of the Stamp Act on the American Colonies in 1765 was a contributing factor in the American Revolutionary War.
X marks the spot
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1750s

Decalomania

Decalomania started by Simon Ravenet, a French printer who relocated to England. He called it “décalquer” from the French term for tracing paper. Tissue paper was pressed into copper plates that had been colored. The “decal” thus created was then transferred to a porcelain or ceramic surface. Technique continues to be refined and used today.
Decalomania wish ball
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1837

Chromolithography

The lithographic process is developed in 1796 by Aloys Senefelder. In 1837, Godefroy Engelmann is awarded a patent for a method of printing in color using lithography. Commercial uses for colorful advertising begin to take off.
Rotary chromolithographic press

 

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1840

Postage Stamps

The U.K. introduces the first prepaid postage stamps, the Penny Black. Sir Rowland Hill called for the one-penny postal rate in 1837 and suggested the stamp “with a glutinous wash” on the reverse. The stamp needed to be moistened before being affixed. A huge success, it increased the postal revenue and traffic.
Penny Black Stamp

 

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1880s

Advertising Takes Off

The era of advertising and product labels (fruit crates, pill bottles, etc.) begins, with improvements in the lithographic process. Gummy adhesives were added to labels before application. Soap and cigar boxes became very colorful. Refrigerated train cars were introduced in the 1880s, and fruit farmers in particular started using labels to differentiate their products from others.
Vintage fruit crate labels
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1935

Self-Adhesive Labels!

Ray Staunton Avery (of Avery Dennison, Avery labels) produced the first self-adhering, pressure-sensitive labels. They could be cut to any shape, and had a peel-off backing.
Avery Self-Adhesive Label Patent

 

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1940s

The Advent of Bumper Stickers

Forest Gill, a silk screen printer, combined self-adhesive paper and day-glo ink to make the first bumper sticker. Early bumper stickers faded quickly and left a gummy residue on the car surface. Because of this, Gill worked with the Nationwide Advertising Speciality Company to create vinyl stickers with adhesive backs in the early 1960’s. The 1950s had seen the introduction of improved printing processes and nontoxic inks, and bumper stickers took off. Particularly popular: Political campaigns and travel souvenirs.
Eisenhower re-election bumper sticker
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1960s

Wacky Packs

Topps Company releases the first of a series of trading cards and stickers called Wacky Packs or Wacky Packages. These cards were frequently parodies of North American consumer products. The  stickers released in 1967 and 1969 needed to be moistened to stick; after 1973, the stickers came with a peel-off backing. Garbage Pail Kids, also by Topps, was a 1980s off-shoot parody of Cabbage Patch Kids (until a copyright lawsuit was filed).
Wacky Pack stickers
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1970s

Scratch-n-Sniff

Scratch and sniff was born in 1965, when a scientist at 3M, working to resolve an issue with carbon copies, found a method of micro-encapsulation that could also be used to hold a smell from scented ink. In the late 1970s, Creative Teaching Press produced scratch and sniff stickers, marketing them to teachers as rewards for their students. Students loved them (particularly the ones with popcorn and pizza aromas…). Popularity remained high throughout the 1980s.
Scratch -n- Sniff stickers
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1990s

Specialty Stickers

Throughout the 1990s, speciality stickers – for TV shows, movies, even Beanie Baby and Pokemon stickers – continued their popularity. There were fuzzy, textured stickers as well as puffy stickers, ones with googly eyes, and 3D stickers. Sticker scrapbooks are a big thing.
sticker scrapbook
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2000s

Digital Presses

Digital presses began to move into the labeling business in the late 1990s. Digital presses have a higher cost per page than traditional off-set printing, but because they can avoid the cost of the steps required to make printing plates, digital printing can be more cost-effective. In addition, digital printing allows for on-demand printing and short turnaround time, as well as variable data (text or artwork changes partway through a run of labels or stickers).
Digital printing
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2020 and Beyond

Future Trends

In the future, there will be continued improvements to presses and inks, leading to increased customization and personalization. Sustainability and waste reduction will take center stage. Expect new features like tactile coatings and special ink effects, as well as flexible packaging.
Future trends
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One of a Kind

In 1963, Chiquita Bananas decided to switch from using paper bands around their banana bunches to using stickers, applied by hand. In the years since, they’ve celebrated the 1980 Winter Olympics, the 50th anniversary of Miss Chiquita, and Breast Cancer Awareness month, as well as holding a number of different contests for consumers. Read more about their stickers at https://chiquita.com/discover/blue-sticker.

Additional resources and references:

History of the Sticker, Part 1

History of Graphic Design Blog: Development Process from Lithography to Chromolithography

Ceramicdecals.org: History of Decals

Encylcopedia Britannica: Lithography

Thoughtco.com: History of Stamps

American Orchard: A Brief Illustrated History of the Fruit Crate Label/

Collectors Weekly: Vintage Crate Labels

The technology behind scratch and sniff stickers

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