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The Huntington

Rancho Chico "Muscatel Raisins" Lithograph

Rancho Chico "Muscatel Raisins" Lithograph

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From: The Huntington
Limited Edition: 30
Exhibition: The Color Explosion: American Lithography from the Jay T. Last Collection
Material: Printed 2-ply vinyl
Dimensions: 35" x 96" (88.9cm x 243.84cm)

Hanging Hardware Included


From the moment we wake up to the time we go to sleep, we live in a sea of color images. It is hard to image a time when color printing was unusual, even prized. The Color Explosion exhibition at the Huntington traced how color lithography launched graphic design and advertising. The exhibition included some 250 objects such as trade cards, advertising posters, children's books, sales catalogs, and toys. The product label featured on the show's banner was Rancho Chico Muscatel Raisins, made from Muscat grapes and known to produce large, dark and sweet raisins.


Imagine books without color illustrations, games without jazzy box tops, life without colorful cereal boxes, and imagine the absence of advertising. Though lithography—the process of printing from a surface treated to repel ink except where desired—was invented in the 1790s, it was only done in black ink. Sacks of flour, cans of fruit, boxes of cigars all had generic black labels on them. When color was desired, workers were hired to add it by hand, which was expensive and time consuming. But by the 1840s, American printers were applying multiple colors. This led to the branding of products in eye-catching packaging, which had a dramatic effect on American consumer culture. Suddenly, everything was exploding with color, and packaging became ever so important.

The exhibit featured more than 250 objects from art prints and calendars to product labels and trade cards produced during the mid to late 19th century. The items were assembled from the Jay T. Last collection of about 135,000 objects, which were donated to the Huntington by Deborah and Jay Last beginning in 2006. They had never before been viewed publicly.

The front of the banner displays the 1880 product label for Rancho Chico Muscatel Raisins, which shows a smiling girl nestled in a grape vine in vivid reds, greens, blues and browns. Rancho Chico was owned by General John Bidwell who founded the city of Chico, CA, 90 miles northeast of Sacramento, in 1860. This label promoted his raisins, one of many products he raised at the sprawling ranch. Muscatel raisins are the dried fruits of the Muscat family of grape, which is large, dark and sweet.

Along the left vertical edge of the banner is “The Huntington” on a blue background. The backside is primarily white with a red and yellow border and the words, “THE COLOR EXPLOSION/AMERICAN LITHOGRAPHY from the Jay T. Last Collection/Oct. 17, 2009-February 22, 2010”.


These banners were displayed around San Marino and the Los Angeles area from October 17, 2009 to February 22, 2010 to promote the exhibition at the Huntington.

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