One of the most popular collectors’ items is the humble railway luggage label. Many thousands of these still exist in private collections and they are generally cheap to buy. They take up little space, are light, colourful and easily displayed, with a huge variety of shapes, sizes and typefaces.
Not much is known about the labels first used by the old companies, but as a general rule they seem to have been blank except for the destination station, without even the company’s name or initials.
From the 1870s onwards, the standard labels which are familiar to collectors today began to be printed in great numbers, and most of them remained unaltered right up to the end of the company’s existence.
The majority of labels were printed in black ink on white paper. Some had gummed backs, but these often became damp and stuck together in bundles. Others were pasted on, which took longer than using gummed labels, but they were easier to store.
An important variation was the use of the sending station’s name on the label. Some companies always used it, others did not – and some changed their policies. The most numerous labels to have survived are from the Great Western Railway, which began by printing the name of the sending station. After 1884 the practicewas abandoned because print runs were so small for isolated country stations. Consequently GWR from/to labels are much rarer.
Other companies which printed the name of the sending station included the Scottish lines (except the North British and Highland labels), the Taff Vale, broad gauge lines absorbed by the GWR and the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway.
Great Eastern Railway labels had space for station names which were printed by station staff using a rubber stamp.