I had a friend of Portugal who used to collect those tiny little fruit stickers. It was 1998.
I remember when we were in Portugal and he'd have his little notebook with him. He was up to notebook #5 or 6, I think. We'd go around and he'd look to see if saw any new fruit labels. Sorta like a baseball card collection, you'd look to see what you needed on a checklist, "need it, got it, need it, got it, got it." We'd be hanging out wherever and he'd be wandering down the aisle of some market searching for that elusive lemon yellow mango label #401.
I was amazed that he collected these things, I thought it was interesting and weird and awesome. Little did we know that these little fruit tattoos most people never think twice about had a wild, underground following of collectors. It's a cult. A secret sect. For reals.
He came to visit New York once. He was vegan and everyday he'd get himself "2 plain bagels and a coffee small". He used to lather his bagel in Blue Bonnet margarine until one day I read the ingredients for him and realised it wasn't vegan at all.
We wound up at a supermarket one day. He had his book with him, by now he was on like book #8. A trip to New York meant serious business for him. He could gain some serious ground on his collection with all sorts of labels from America that no one back home in Portugal would have. He was on a mission. Walking through the produce aisle with a discriminating eye, like an ugly judge at a beauty pageant. Next thing I know he's rifling through bananas, peaches, plums, green grapes, red grapes, green seedless grapes, red seedless grapes, watermelons, cantaloupe, honey dew... He made a right at the red delicious pyramid, shuffled through the Golden delicious and the Granny Smiths. My man was filing through the McIntosh apples like a Beatles buff at a record convention. He made a beeline for the oranges. His pages were filling up fast. He was like a kid in a candy store. Navels, Valencias, blood oranges, Cara Caras, tangerines, tangelos, Moros and Hamlins.
Next thing I know he's talking, passionate and animated, to an old man. At the time we thought nothing of it. Thought maybe he'd made a friend. Maybe a fellow Portugese gentleman living in Brooklyn originally from Lisbon. But they were talking for so long and with such fervor as time went on we started to wonder. Someone went to go make sure everything was OK. We thought maybe he'd been reprimanded for peeling the labels off fruit. I'm sure a dude from Portugal trying to explain why he was peeling little stickers off apples to the manager of a Brooklyn supermarket wouldn't have been too smooth.
Turns out the old man was a collector, too! And from Portugal! The old man saw my friend with his notebook collecting his citrus stamps and I guess made the secret hand signal to let him know he was also a member of the The Secret Sect.
Years later I looked it up online and it turns out there are people all over the world who collect these little critters. And theres a main site, an online HQ for The Secret Sect that tracks the labels all over the world.
The World of Fruit Labels : The web's first and oldest fruit label site. Founded as long ago as May 1999.
Another site, the elusive "FRUITSTICKERS COLLECTION's XAVIER" reads:
Welcome on my Web site.
My name is Xavier HEYTE ,I'm living in Namur (Belgium).
I collect the labels since 1990 and I currently have 11,129 different (oct 2000).
I classify them by fruits and I always seek to increase my collection.
I have many duplicates and I'm ready to exchange them.
I recently found on apples a series of 5 labels on the topic of Teddy Bear.
The labels of apples and fruits with pit form part also of my search.
My site being very new it will improve with the wire of the months. "
Enter the world of fruit label collecting... if you dare.