Samson Flashlight Firecracker

"Fireworks were first invented and developed in China between 600-1200 AD to accompany festivals, expel evil spirits, and bring about luck and happiness, but by the late 19th Century, they were being shipped from China worldwide. Because fireworks were quite cheap to manufacture, and fungible in terms of chemical composition and visual effect, competition among producers selling nearly identical products became intense—making label design and packaging a manufacturer’s primary means of enticing customers. In the 1910's, lithography machines began to arrive in China and producers transitioned from plain red wrapping with gold leaf details to multi-color labels for individual explosives. Early lithograph labels frequently referenced animals and nature, as well as Chinese figures unfamiliar to foreigners, such as dragons or monkey kings; while non-Chinese buyers often did not understand the mythical context of these figures, they remained popular for their perceived exoticism. Over time, however, Chinese fireworks producers began to incorporate contemporary and Western iconography into their designs, with things like werewolves, cowboys, and spaceships all appearing on packaging. Fireworks labels are quintessentially ephemeral. What could be more impermanent than a design that's attached to an explosive? To me, much of the appeal of these labels is the creative unfussiness afforded to something so temporal, and the artifacts that emerge out of their quick assembly-line production. The paper is low quality, printing is often out of registration, and existing illustrations are inexactly copied or re-colored by other artists to fit new styles or changing packaging sizes. Eastern and Western elements casually intermingle, with English letterforms distorted and embellished, and classically American characters or themes set within more traditional Chinese compositions. As someone who loves, and often relies on, using research to guide my design process, it's a nice reminder that capriciousness can be an equally important impetus for making." —Elizabeth Goodspeed