Peeling and Preserving Vintage Labels

Dear Donia,
How can I remove labels from wooden boxes and preserve them?

Vintage fruit box label

Q. Dear Donia,

How can I safely peel off vintage fruit box labels from wooden boxes? Also, what would be the best way of preserving them if I left some on the box? Thanks, David

A. Dear David,

Knowing how to peel fruit box labels off of wooden boxes will greatly depend on what adhesive was used to put them on the box (or used to re-apply peeling labels).  

First, I will address how to preserve the labels if you leave them on the box.  The best way to preserve the labels on the boxes it to store them somewhere that the temperature and relative humidity are stable - no basements, attics, or barns.  You also want to store them somewhere that does not have strong light, whether it is daylight or artificial.  Keeping the temp and RH down and the light low will prevent the paper and the wood itself from deteriorating as quickly and staining the labels.

If you must remove the labels, you can start simply by testing a corner with a small flat brush and a little (not a lot) water to see if it softens the adhesive at all.  If it does, you know that you can work it of slowly with water.  You can place a damp (not wet) towel over the label and let it work and them carefully lift the label with a frosting spatula.  Do this slowly and if you encounter any resistance, place a new towel on and let it sit a bit more.  Once removed, place it face down on a paper towel and gently roll (not rub) a cotton swab over the areas where there is still heavy adhesive to reduce this and let the label dry.  They may not all come off perfectly in one go so be patient or you will rip the label.

I hope this helps.