Monday, January 29, 2018

You Label Me, I'll Label You

Sometime around 1970, my parents acquired a "high tech" device known as a Label-It. Manufactured by the DYMO Corporation, the Label-It was an embossing tape printing system that produced a sticky-backed plastic strip onto which the user could custom-print words or short phrases; or for that matter I suppose all the great works of literature, given enough patience and an unlimited supply of tape. The Label-It was gun-shaped with a horizontal alpha-numeric wheel on top. You loaded a spool of plastic tape into the back and fed it through the embossing head. By arranging the wheel so that the desired number or letter was over the tape and pulling the "trigger," the head forced the tape against the raised character and, due the physical properties of the plastic, a white image of the character was transferred to the tape. When the entire word was finished, you hit the "cut" button and removed the label. It was fairly primitive by modern standards, but it was iconic in its own way. In fact, modern graphics meant to evoke the 60's and 70's often use this embossed look as a design element. Later versions of the device offered interchangeable wheels with different fonts and even simple graphics, the emojis of their day, and the variety of tape colors grew to include hot pink, florescent orange and lime green. For some reason, though, we always bought the same color, a moss green about the same as (hey, I never really thought about that before!) the homestead logo.

I will admit that as a 7 or 8 year old, I became slightly obsessed with the device and labeling things. I recall putting my name on every single item in my desk at school; folders, Prang paint kit, scissors, glue, even pencils! At home, G.I. Joe became super organized, as all of his accessories got a label, and the fad even worked its way into my favorite hobby, fishing; although the necessity of labeling a tackle box, "TACKLE BOX" is still subject to debate.

If you are wondering why I'm taking a walk down this particular memory lane today, it's because DYMO embossing devices are still available, and guess what, they have a very real and practical place around the modern homestead. For most household and office purposes, the inkjet or thermal transfer printer is a better tool for label-making, but those labels don't hold up well in the garden, where moisture, heat and sunlight conspire to make them illegible after just a few weeks. Embossed plastic labels, though, remain legible for years, even under the harshest conditions. For a quick seedling label, I affix an embossed strip to a Popsicle stick, and have labels that remained attached to clay pots for multiple growing seasons. As a bonus, the embossed labels, which are still available in many colors, give handcrafted items a retro look, so they can be used as a cost-effective method for labeling goods for resale.

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