Lemons were first imported in Europe between the 9th and the 10th century, starting their radiant invasion in Sicily, when the Arab conquerors taught the locals how to grow and harvest citrus fruit. From then on, Citrus limonum started to brighten the coastline in Southern Italy.
Almost one thousand years later, citrus fruit had become one of the most famous symbols of Sicilian culture and tradition in the world: they were considered the region’s logo, and were at the center of the most modern and dynamic local entrepreneurs’ success between the 19th and the 20th centuries.
There were citrus fruit farmers and traders, of course, as well as a very specific kind of craftsmen: “metal stamp piercers”, who were in high demand as exporters needed to print their trademarks on the wooden crates used for transportation.
The process entailed making a pencil drawing, which was “translated” into a piece of perforated paper, which in turn was the model for a heliographic print, which was used to make a brass die – to finally create the imprint in the wood of the crates.
Here are some beautiful examples of perforated paper: as you can see, their design was meant to follow the trends and style of the time more than to represent the merchandise… but inside each box, you would always find Sicily’s most wonderful lemons, in the United States or anywhere else in the world.
Photos via: “From Palermo to America. L’iconografia commerciale dei limoni di Sicilia”, Sellerio, Palermo 2007