The origins of hotel luggage labels can probably be traced to the trade-cards that hotels routinely ordered along with their other stationery items, such as letter and invoice stock, in the latter half of the 19th century. These items often featured a copper engraved image of the hotel and some text pertaining to its location. These cards served as “hand-out” publicity for the establishment.
There is evidence to suggest that hotel trade-cards were occasionally affixed to items of luggage, probably to facilitate their transport to the correct establishment. By 1900 hotels were routinely providing travelers with labels for their luggage. Luggage decorated with labels from important and exotic places became a symbol of one’s class and status.
The early 20th century saw graphic design changes in hotel luggage labels with designs passing from the detailed images (evolving directly from the earlier copper engravings) incorporating limited coloring, to a simplified yet highly colored, dramatic and eye-catching style (seen in the images above). Designs on labels reflected the Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles in turn and hotels began to use labels as a promotional tool.
While early labels mainly featured representations of the hotels themselves the designs evolved to include iconic views of the cities in which the hotels were found, often in the form of representations of important architectural monuments such as the Leaning Tower of Pisa or the Pyramids of Giza. Geographic features, such as mountains and lakes, also were featured.
The use of hotel luggage labels continued into the 1950s, and even beyond in some luxury hotels in exotic locales, but the advent of mass tourism and the more automated transfer of luggage diminished the appeal and use of the luggage label.