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by Joao-Manuel Mimoso
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The history of A.Trüb & Cie starts in 1859 when a society was established in the Swiss town of Aarau to operate a printing shop. In 1880 the control of the business passed on to Jakob Müller who, in 1884, entered an association with August Trüb. The demand soon developed enough for the company to contract a permanent graphic artist.

Since the earliest days, the printer targeted the manufacturing industry, supplying paper packings, labels, prospects, illustrated bills and the like. In 1890 the company operated 8 printing presses and employed 60 workers. Its owners wanted to expand the business and so bought over a smaller printer in Lausanne. The oldest Trüb luggage labels in my collection date from the early 1890s and are marked "Müller & Cie, Aarau" or "Müller & Cie, Lausanne".

Early label marked "Müller & Cie, Lausanne"- circa 1892
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Label by Müller, Trüb & C, Como- circa 1900
By 1896 the labels were being marked "Müller & Trüb,..." and the company's quality work was already renowned in Europe. The partners felt the time ripe for a foreign expansion but seemingly they disagreed on the basic strategy with Jakob Müller, who held a majority share, intent on establishing foreign subsidiaries while August Trüb favored export from their homeland. In 1897 and 1898 two subsidiaries were thus established in Bucharest (Romania) and Como (N. Italy). Both ventures failed with substantial losses which led to a scission between the two partners. In the end, Trüb managed to put together the sum necessary to buy Müller's share and in January 1903 he formed a new society and gained sole control of the business. From this time on, the printer's luggage labels were marked "A.Trüb & Cie,...".
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Under August Trüb's directorship an ambitious plan of expansion was started that would, 25 years later, led to a position in which half the production of the company was exported. He established a net of agents and used traveling salesmen, thus managing to secure orders from Italy, France, Spain, Russia and as far as Eastern Asia. But Trüb recognized that although the printing craftsmanship of his company was flawless, he could not compete in terms of styling with his Italian and French counterparts. His answer was to contract the work of Italian artists, including Leonida Edel and E. Buffetti (from 1903) and Luigi Dalmonte (some ten years later). The fact that the work of these international artists was predominantly used on foreign orders shows how clear-minded and determined Trüb was in his thrive for foreign business.
Label marked "Trüb & Cie"- circa 1903
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Transitional label by Trüb & Cie- circa 1904

Of the three Italian artists, the known work of L. Edel is particularly relevant to our discussion. He did Art Nouveau posters for hotels in a style that was somewhat similar to Mario Borgoni's, albeit more archaic. In particular he used the same darkened curvaceous frame which included part of the lettering. At Trüb's he met a young apprentice of 19 who had joined the company in 1902. His name was Otto Ernst and he would soon become the printer's specialist in hotel posters and labels.

A few other artists employed by Trüb were Jakob Nohl (who later established his own printing business in Schaffhausen), P.Tanner, E.Lutz, and K.Frey.

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This plethora of gifted artists was given much graphic freedom in their work. As a result, a true "Trüb style" was never developed as at Richter's and the graphic image of any set of different labels printed by Trüb is fractionated because it is really a sum total of the styles of its many artists.

Trüb's labels of before 1903 were brilliantly crafted prints with an amazing amount of detail but were graphically unimaginative. The first measure to improve the situation was the modernization of the colored frames which were redesigned in the Art Nouveau style. Then, more colors were used and before long the old graphics, centered on a line print of the hotel building, had been abandoned and the new labels were being designed based on landscapes rendered in unreal colors, as was done in Italy and elsewhere in Switzerland.

Label by Trüb & Cie in an "Italian" style not unlike Richter's- circa 1908
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Trüb's work for the South American market- 1925

The Great War was a difficult time for Trüb. Switzerland mobilized to defend its neutrality and business dwindled because of both a lack of skilled workers and a sharp reduction in orders. But when demand climbed again, the company was ready and willing to go for it. The postwar recovery saw Trüb's finest years in both the number of labels printed and the internationalization of business, with a significant penetration in South America, particularly in Cuba and Colombia.

The financial boom increased the demand for security printing and Trüb, already in the field, specialized in the production of added value printed matter such as stocks, bonds and bank checks. This line of business would one day prove decisive for the future of the company.

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The branch of Trüb in Lausanne is of particular interest because it produced labels independently and used the services of a remarkable and easily identifiable (albeit unknown- maybe Johann Müller) artist. The label at the side exemplifies his work.

In 1906 Trüb's Lausanne shop was moved to Rue du Simplon and for the next 20 years it accounted for roughly half of Trüb's production of hotel labels. The last datable posters and labels I know of were printed at the Lausanne premises around 1925. At about this time the branch became a society on its own, directed by members of the Trüb family, and the production of labels in the very same style continued under the name "Simplon SA, Lausanne". It is still in operation as Sauber & Roth SA.

Label by the "Good Artist" of Trüb's shop in Lausanne
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Label marked "A.Trüb & Cie Aarau- Lugano" illustrating Otto Ernst's style- late 1920s

After about 1926, the labels were marked "A.Trüb & Cie, Aarau-Lugano" but seemingly all the printing was done in Aarau and the Lugano branch was merely an office and sales outlet.

In 1929 the business was thriving and the October crash in Wall Street fell like a retarded bomb, the full consequences of which were not apparent until several months later: the overseas markets evaporated, all other exports were almost nullified and in many cases the concerns that had put up orders, were no longer when those orders were ready for delivery. The production of hotel labels fell sharply and although it would continue in moderate numbers until well after the Second World War, the artistry declined with the need for cheaper editions.

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If a style was to be associated with the hotel labels printed by Trüb, it would be Otto Ernst's. His designs always include the hotel building as an important part. In town hotels it is indeed the main focus of attention, but in country hotels, where the artist achieves his best results, the building is totally integrated in a landscape of glittering color. There is often a "window" that may be made of darkened trees, columns, or purely geometrical (as in the late 1920s example at right, signed "Ernst") but it unlike Richter's it seldom includes the lettering. His best labels join Italian artistry with a sense of Swiss geometric accuracy.
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As an example of Trüb's varying style, the label at left, also datable to the late 1920s and signed "C.Valerio", explores the same basic theme but rendered in a very different way. It is both superb in its gaiety and highly unusual in the large number of colors used in a luggage label, and surely represents a special prestige order (probably for a poster that was also reduced for use as label) for which was purportedly contracted an Italian artist whose work was not seen in other Trüb labels.

At this time, at least three recurring styles, representing the original work of as many artists, are clearly identifiable in Trüb's hotel luggage labels.

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August Trüb passed away in 1922 after directing the company for 18 years. His sons would lead it to its apogee and steer it to safety through the difficult days of the Great Depression and the Second World War. Otto Ernst worked for Trüb & Cie for almost 50 years during which he designed a hundred posters, retiring in 1950. He would live for yet another 17 years.

As Trüb AG, the printer subsists to this day in Aarau, specializing in security printing (such as credit cards and the like) and is an example of how through quality, flexibility and adaptation an old enterprise can survive the test of time. And a heritage was left: practically all labels by Trüb are collectable today!

August Trüb
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Main sources:
-Paul Trüb-Eberhardt, "!00 Jahre A.Trüb & Cie. Aarau";
-Catalogo Bolaffi del Manifesto Italiano;
-Karl Wohmann, "Touristikplakate der Schweiz"; "Schweizer Hotelplakate".
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Lisboa, Portugal, 2003-07-16
-Index of my pages on hotel labels