The Story of Vintage Hotel Luggage Labels

Dotted around the Bella Luce, in the bar, reception area and various bedrooms, you’ll find some wonderful old travel trunks and cases. If you stop to examine these, you’ll notice that many bear the labels from a bygone era of travel; a time when bellhops would attach a sticker or label to a steamer trunk to ensure that it was delivered to the correct room or cabin, or offloaded at the correct station. Hotels in the late 19th and early 20th centuries saw an opportunity and commissioned beautiful labels that travellers would be proud to leave in place as a visual record of their travels, thus becoming mobile adverts for their hotel.

"What do we find on old luggage? We find the traces of… the places visited. We will follow these, and with them, we will tour the world, not in eighty days like Phileas Fogg, but much faster still."
Gaston-Louis Vuitton

The luggage that decorates the Bella’s spaces is authentic, acquired at various auctions by Hotel Director Sinead Wheadon, and therefore so too are the hotel and steam ship stickers that adorn them; from Paris to Istanbul, Calais to Cairo and Newcastle to Durban, with a number of transatlantic crossings on iconic ocean liners too, the Bella’s luggage is certainly well travelled. Hotels commissioned artists to design labels for them, with many establishments having several different designs that follow the visual fashions over the decades, until the fashion and need for hotel labels started to tail off in the 1960s. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, before photography became wide spread, luggage labels and travel posters were the only real way for travellers to see what a place looked like, and so these artworks stylized and romanticised destinations. The roaring twenties were the golden age for luggage labels, as international travel became accessible to more and more people yet still took days or weeks rather than hours; journeys were made on ocean going liners and steam trains, and were elegant affairs. It was the era when wealthy travellers still undertook “grand tours” visiting iconic cities and staying in hotels that were, and in some cases still are, institutions. In those days a label from a grand hotel such as The Ritz in London stuck to your luggage told your fellow passengers a lot about you, and was regarded as a status symbol. Unsurprisingly, vintage luggage labels are now highly collectable, with examples ranging from the iconic hotels of classic European capitals through Belle Époque spa hotels and alpine resorts, exotic colonial institutions and finally to the state-run establishments of cold war era soviet block destinations. You can view the incredible collection of Floridian collector Tom Schifanella online here or leaf through the beautiful hardcover book World Tour, which details the incredible collection amassed by the grandson of Louis Vuitton, Gaston-Louis Vuitton. Gaston-Louis joined the family firm in 1897 at age fourteen and over the course of his career at the famed luxury luggage company he acquired over 3,000 hotel stickers and labels, 900 of which are showcased in this tome alongside vintage postcards and period photographs of the destinations featured.

Such vintage luggage labels and their evocative artwork make many of us dream of travel in days gone by, when ships and trains were powered by steam and weight limits for luggage were unheard of. The fact that travel is now quicker and easier is a wonderful thing however, and you can certainly still arrive in style with beautifully crafted luggage that tells a story.

Written by:

Bella Luce