London and South Western Railway Luggage Labels
O   v   e   r   v   i   e   w

by Mike Morant
Reference will be made throughout the following text to publications produced by the Railway Print Society hereinafter referred to as the RPS. In the case of LSWR labels there are two relevant publications but only the 'definitive' guide to LSWR material will be quoted here: © RPS_H9. As with all 'definitive' guides it was overtaken by events and a great many labels have been unearthed since its publication but it does provide a very sound basis for accumulating and documenting a worthwhile collection.

The early labels are universally referred to as 'the coloured labels' even though some of them are just plain white. The LSWR, along with the SER, was keen on colour coding for its routes but that admirable concept was obviously abandoned at some point in time and saw the universal introduction of blue labels for a while which, in their turn, were superseded by just plain old white.

The perceived wisdom where the coloured labels are concerned is that the four distinctly different print styles are related to the periods of time the stations they refer to were opened. However, this author has some doubts as to the complete veracity of that concept as there are one or two inconsistencies relating to the destinations on the labels whereupon the original theory was based.

This author's view is that, as with so many railways, the production of luggage labels was contracted out to third party suppliers (the modern term is outsourced) and that some were more favoured - probably on a cost basis -  than others.There is also the possibility that there were separate sections in the LSWR's own printing works that had their own views on label formatting. The implication of that theory is that much of the production was concurrent as opposed to contiguous which is the established view.

It should be borne in mind that any reference work on luggage labels is based on surviving examples and it's clear from the established guide that there are many missing from the original assortment. However, the good news is that, from time to time, accumulations that have lain dormant for 50 years or more are revealed and previously unknown examples become available.

It is probable that the LSWR has a following second only to the GWR within the luggage label collecting fraternity.
So, what is the reason for that deep-seated interest? The LSWR was one of only a few British mainland railways that colour coded its labels according to the routes they applied to. The mostly brightly coloured labels were produced over a period of about 25 years and encompassed four distinctly different types all of which contained variations of hue and print style. The colours were . . . .
  blue green grey orange pink white yellow  
Luggage_label_L91-2_Itchen_Abbas_pink Luggage_label_L91-4_Itchin_Abbas_blue
Two splendid examples of the bright colours and different printing formats of this genre.
Note the different headings and the spelling aberration in the name.

The dimensions of the above labels are 3.8" x 1.5" (97 x 38mm in modern speak).

The grey variety, which is a distinct grey as opposed to faded white, was used for only four destinations and disappeared from the assortment very quickly whilst the orange was reserved for a small selection of LBSCR destinations only and they are highly prized by collectors although a couple of them are generally available. There is, however, one very odd exception within the orange labels (Addlestone) which will be mentioned on the appropriate page.

At some time in the evolution of the LSWR it was decided to dispense with the colour coding principle and (nearly) all labels produced from about 1888 were printed on white paper. Despite the subsequent apparent uniformity there is still a great deal to interest the serious collector. And why that word 'nearly'? Well, concurrently with the production of the standardised white labels the Isle of Wight destinations were blessed with their own unique shade of mauve paper and the majority of those are highly prized in the LSWR label collecting community.

At some point prior to the total change to white labels there seems to have been a general shift away from the colour coding scheme and many of the more brightly adorned labels were superseded by what can best be described as a corporately defined blue. The use of blue paper begs the question: why on earth was DARK blue used because black print on dark blue paper is practically illegible in anything less than bright daylight? They look great in a collection but must have been a nightmare to deal with on a day-to-day basis.

One feature common to all LSWR luggage labels is the application of the stock number '787' except on the rare occasions where the printer has accidentally forgotten to typeset it. That number might not appear to the uninitiated to be significant but it becomes so. The really enduring feature of the LSWR basic design is that it was adopted by the Southern Railway as its standard for luggage labels right through to nationalisation in 1947 and all SR labels also carried that code. Interestingly, the S&DJR, post-grouping, also adopted the same basic design complete with the stock number but for only a short period.

Unlike all of its immediate neighbours the LSWR didn't apply a printed station of origin to its labels until quite a late stage in their evolutionary cycle. Indeed, the neighbours to the north and west had abandoned the practice years before the LSWR even started. Even then only Waterloo, Ilfracombe and Bournemouth West were definite recipients thereof although it is believed that Southampton West also had them as a single example has survived.

The LSWR assortment of label types falls into a neat set of categories based on different formatting of titles, formatting of the destination (font and style) and the inclusion or otherwise of a 'from' line. Paper colour, with the exception of labels to the Isle of Wight, is not a categorising factor.

The LSWR also excelled itself in one other respect: it produced labels for some destinations that had no station. The examples that immediately spring to mind Alum Bay and Totland Bay. It's probable that there was some sort of established road connection to those destinations provided by the appropriate railway as the production of these label destinations continued under Southern auspices for a number of years.

All photographs are copyright

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This page was last updated 7 July 2007

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