A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006. Now a Popeyes fast food restaurant on Google Maps.

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Entry from July 25, 2004
Big Apples Are Top of the Barrel
The big apples, the best fruit, are "top of the barrel." This was well known by the late 19th century.

It was speculated that farmers often placed the best apples on top of the barrel to hide the poorer ones that were on the bottom. However, when apples are shipped, it's just that the smaller apples fall to the bottom naturally. No unethical farmer is responsible, although certainly some hand-packed barrels might have been purposely packed this way.

The "big apple on top" fact is not specifically mentioned in John J. Fitz Gerald's "Big Apple" columns, but it was surely known by him and his readers.

26 September 1885, New York (NY) Mail and Express, pg. 5, col. 4:
(Big Apple drawing—ed.)
This is an apple, large and round. At the top of the barrel always found.
(Small Apple drawing—ed.)
This is an apple, small and mean. Always at the bottom seen.—Bridgewater Independent.

2 November 1889, Pittsburgh (PA) Post, pg. 4, col. 7:
Little Apple -- The farmer is assorting us to pack us in barrels. Aren't you afraid of being thrown away?
Big Apple (knowingly) -- Not a bit of it! I'm sure to come out on top. -- New York Sun.

7 July 1893, Fitchburg (MA) Sentinel, pg. 4, col. 1:
And now appears ex-Mayor Hart of Boston to say that he is a candidate for the Republican nomination for governor. Still the small apples will keep coming to the top of the barrel. -- [Holyoke Democrat.
Perhaps so, brother, but we have noticed that when there is only one good big apple in the barrel, that is usually found on top.

15 October 1910, Mansfield (OH) News, pg. 12(?), col. 1:
READER, are you any honest man? Not an ordinary honest man, one who scorns to put the big apples of his business dealing at the top of the barrel and the little ones at the bottom, but an absolutely honest man...

15 December 1922, Los Angeles (CA) Times, pg. II4:
The new President of Brazil started life as a grocery boy at the age of 12. He will still probably put all of the big apples on the top of the barrel. Early environment is powerful.

31 March 1926, Nashua (Iowa) Reporter, pg. 2(?), col. 1:
Doubtless much of the criticism of farmers for putting the big apples on top in the barrel comes from birds who wrap a $20 bill around a wad of ones.

26 August 1930, Sheboygan (WI) Press, pg. 12(?), col. 2:
The man who puts the big apples on top.

18 June 1938, Marion (OH) Star, pg. 3, col. 1:
He was not the type who prayed loud and long at the weekly prayer meeting and then "put the big apples on top of the barrel."

15 October 1953, Hamburg (Iowa) Reporter, pg. 2, col. 1:
The other day Danny and I went out to Wright's orchard to watch them proess apples, and it was something to see. Mr. Wright also cleared up a matter which all of us who have ever bought fruit anywhere have always wondered about. Nom it isn't true. They don't put the big apples on top and the small ones on the bottom. At least orchards with modern grading equipment don't.
Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityThe Big ApplePre-1920s • Sunday, July 25, 2004 • Permalink

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