With travel, as with so many other trends, everything old eventually becomes new again. A case in point: luggage labels, those elegant, postcardlike stickers that first adorned the portmanteaus of the well traveled back in the late 19th century.
Jane Goodrich, cofounder of Saturn Press, based in Swan’s Island, Maine, has spent the past 16 years building a business out of reviving the past. One longtime passion has been luggage labels. Goodrich’s personal collection includes some 8,000 originals. Saturn Press offers a package of 15 reproductions ($12), from destinations such as the Continental Palace in Saigon and the Hotel Excelsior in Casablanca. The labels are one of the company’s best-selling items — even though they aren’t rugged enough to stick to the ballistic nylon that’s used in most travel bags.
More fascinating than the labels themselves is the process of printing them on antique letterpresses. Inside the company’s small print shop, printer Jim van Pernis plays the role of chemist, artist, and mechanic. He mixes each color of ink so that it’s just the right hue and consistency. “I have to take modern ink and make it behave like 19th-century ink,” van Pernis explains. Meanwhile, for every color required to produce a sheet of labels, the paper has to pass through the press one time. So a single sheet, which requires 13 colors for the 15 different labels, undergoes 13 passes.
“It’s completely nutty,” says Goodrich. “Most people wouldn’t bother.” So why does she bother? “There’s extreme satisfaction in knowing that you’re bringing something beautiful that has your fingerprints on it back into the world.”