The Eyes Of The World (Of Banana-Label Collectors) Are On Houston

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Some are just tiny billboards, others are miniature Christmas cards, and a few are even very, very small protest signs. Hair Balls is talking about banana labels, the object of devotion for Becky Martz. The Houston woman collects them and has more than 8,000 stashed away in two huge albums.

For people who follow the whole world of banana labels, Martz is famous.

Why would anyone collect something that's usually just thrown away? That's precisely the reason, says, Martz. "That they are meant to be thrown away, they're never meant to be kept -- that's the definition of ephemera," she tells us.

If, like Hair Balls, all you've ever seen are simple labels with Dole or Chiquita written on them, Martz says you just aren't paying close enough attention.

"Even Dole and Chiquita issue commemorative labels. Most of those advertise movies, lately. Dole has done a lot of that type of advertising on their labels," Martz says. "A couple of years ago, Dole put out labels for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. And there have been some for the Olympics, for example.

"I have one that's a political protest. It's a label somebody put over a regular Chiquita label; it says, 'Chiquita violates human rights.' It was used in Belgium by some kind of banana terrorist group," Martz says as if it labels on fruit being used in civil protests wasn't at all weird.

"If you shop at Kroger or at Randall's, you're going to see the same labels over and over. Now, Fiesta, that's something else. They might have something different. We have a lot of ethnic stores here and they are my biggest source. The farmer's market on Airline, that's a good place. Some of those crates are just driven straight up from Mexico, and sometimes those bananas have different labels. I can tell some of them were never meant to be used in the US because they don't have the TLU and country marked on them like they're supposed to."

We wondered if there's a Holy Grail of banana labels, and weren't at all surprised to find out that there is. "There's a famous set from the 1980s. Chiquita had printed up labels for the [1980] Olympics, but of course, we pulled out of the Olympics that year so they were never used. A couple of sets escaped from the printer. That's probably the biggest thing I don't have, but I'm always hopefully to get them."

Martz pauses for a moment then adds, "I wish they would put out an Obama label. That would be so exciting."

-- Olivia Flores Alvarez

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