In an earlier post (Labelled with love) I wrote about luggage labels, the small printed pieces of paper that were stuck on guests’ bags and cases to make sure they arrived at the correct hotel. The designs created for the labels often then served as a logo for the hotel, appearing on letterheads, envelopes, and even cups and plates in the dining room. But branding creates problems of its own. At one point Shepheard’s was losing 2,000 coathangers a year to guests. When management stopped printing the hangers with the hotel’s name the losses dropped to almost nothing. Ashtrays were another favourite ‘souvenir’ item. This, however, was viewed as a good thing: the idea that Shepheard’s branded ashtrays were being carried off back to Europe and America, where presumably they would be proudly displayed, was good advertising – an early form of viral marketing. To encourage this the hotel even issued different designs to appeal to collectors.
All the designs were close variations on the Shepheard’s distinctive luggage label (the one that heads this post), which was designed by Mario Borgoni of the printing house Richter & Co of Naples, and in use from the early years of the 20th century and throughout the 1920s and 1930s.
As at Shepheard’s, most of the big hotels had their own signature design – many of the best of which were also drawn by Richter artists. In most cases the designs were maintained over the years with only the occasional variation in colour.
For comparison, here’s a bunch of current hotel branding.
And they say that the romance of travel has gone?
Although Grand Hotels of Egypt finally clocked in at a novel-length 65,000 words, it could all have been so different. It started life as a scrapbook of pictures and photographs. Over the years I’d been picking up small items related to Egypt’s old hotels and early tourism on the Nile, things like hotel stationary, menu cards, postcards, advertising brochures, travel posters, items of correspondence, and decorative ashtrays and other ‘souvenirs’ commonly lifted from hotel rooms. In particular, I built up a sizeable collection of luggage labels. If you don’t know what these are, they’re cigarette packet-sized labels that once upon a time porters used to slap on luggage at the harbour or railway station so it would find its way to the correct hotel while the owners went on ahead. Later, hotels just handed them out to guests to stick on their own cases – it was cheap advertising for the hotels, while a well stickered bit of luggage was a great way of showing off what a well travelled person you were. Although they were handed out free, many of these labels were beautiful pieces of art – in many cases they were designed and printed by the same firms responsible for advertising posters. As it happened, the heyday of the luggage label was from the 1890s to the 1920s, a hugely exciting era of stylistic as well as technical innovation in graphic design. There’s an appendix in Grand Hotels devoted purely to the luggage label in Egypt and we reproduce about 50 labels throughout the book. Even so, there were still plenty we had to leave out because of space limitations. So here, below, are a few favourites that didn’t make the cut.
Below are a few more examples of particularly beautiful labels that also didn’t make the book, though here it’s because they relate to hotels that are/were outside of Egypt. Grand Hotels of the Middle East maybe?
If you’re interested in knowing more about luggage labels and seeing many more examples click here for the Web’s best resource on the subject.