Not too long ago, before urban sprawl and development rolled in, much of Florida's landscape consisted of citrus groves, and the sweet smell of orange blossoms filled the air. It's a bygone era that Don Ball revels in.
Ball, 68, a fifth-generation member of one of Florida's pioneering families, will speak Wednesday to the Seminole Historical Society about the history of local citrus growers and his collection of more than 1,800 citrus packing labels.
The free event is at 7 p.m. and is open to the public at the Seminole Recreation Center, 9100 13th St. N, Room 210B.
Ball will discuss how the labels were used to advertise the citrus industry.
"This is among the earliest form of Florida advertising that exists," he said. "Growers used different subjects on the labels to catch the eye of produce buyers at the auction houses up North."
Some of the subjects Ball refers to include landscapes, women, children, animals, birds and scenes similar to those created later on by the Florida Highwaymen.
"They are absolutely incredible works of art," he said. "They are very colorful and come in three basic sizes: 3 by 9, 7 by 7, and 9 by 9. Each one has a story behind it."
Ball, a Largo resident, will be showcasing some of the local labels he has collected. One, titled Airview, was used by a packing house in Seminole. Set against a dark blue background with yellow lettering, it depicts undeveloped south Pinellas County featuring the Pier. He will give away a card stock copy to those who attend.
Ball's ancestors were citrus growers in Brevard County near the Indian River, but he spent most of his life away from the groves, teaching American history at Dixie Hollins High School and serving as a district executive and field director for the Pinellas Area Council of Boy Scouts of America.
It wasn't until 2005 when he was gifted with a vintage citrus label that he began to reconnect with his roots and started collecting the brightly colored illustrations, going to flea markets and label shows and browsing eBay.
"Once you're hooked, you're hooked," he said. "It rapidly grew into a passion that I overlooked most of my life. Being a fifth-generation Florida citrus family, I should have been more involved in that aspect of collecting."
Ball's collection goes from the 1880s to the 1950s and includes an original from his family's Confidence brand, dating from the teens to early 1920s. It features a Victorian child with a white dove on her hand and oranges in the background.
"It has such a special family meaning," he said.
For more information, call (727) 391-1433.