Atari 2600 Label Variations


The Atari 2600 holds the record for the Atari system with the most label variations.  Due to its unusually long lifespan, the style of the 2600 cartridge was updated many more times than cartridges for other Atari systems.  These changes reflect the financial situation and popularity of the 2600 at the time.  Starting out with plain looking text labels, Atari switched to stylish new picture labels once the 2600 started gaining market share.  As the popularity of the 2600 skyrocketed, Atari decided to splurge on expensive silver foil labels, which helped its games standout in an ever-growing sea of competitors.  After the 2600's demise and relaunch as a budget system in 1986, the label style changed to a cheaper red-brown color with black & white artwork (which was eventually upgraded to color), which was used for the rest of the 2600's life.

A list of label variations for the 2600 can be found here: Atari 2600 Label Variations List Ver. 7.5


Numbered Text Label

Only the original nine carts that were released with the initial launch of the system in 1977 use this style.  The games have two large numbers on the end label next to the name of the game (such as 01 combat) and is entirely in lowercase.  

Colored Boarders

The first run of 2600 carts featured a colored boarder around the text on the end label which was quickly dropped.  Not all of the original nine come in this variation.

Text Label After the original nine were released, Atari dropped the two digit number from the end label.  There are several variations among these text labels (color, font, layout).  This style was used until 81 when Atari replaced it with the Black Picture Label.  It's interesting to note that the last text label cart to be released (Othello) has it's end label all in caps and the first picture labels (Video Pinball and Missile Command) have their end labels in lowercase letters.  Obviously Atari was still settling on a style during this transition phase.
Color Change
Atari changed the text color on several of their games for unknown reasons.  The colors used changed from Yellow to Gold or from Red to another color.
Font Change

In 1980 Atari changed the font on it's text label games slightly.  It's easiest to see the difference on the letters Y, E, and Q. 

Black Label The next style Atari released was a Black Picture Label. On these carts the label is all black and there is a large picture on the main label. The title is in all caps on these labels and can come in a variety of colors (there doesn't appear to be any pattern).  Atari used this style until sometime in 1982 when they switched to the silver label.
Lowercase Text
Unlike most Black Label carts, this variation has the game name in lowercase letters.  Only Missile Command and Video Pinball (the first two games) used this odd variation.

1986 Re-releases

When Atari decided to re-release many 'classic' titles in 1986, they decided to use the Black Label style.  Several games that had previously been Text Label only were also re- released in this style.  However due to poor quality control, most of these re-releases have odd colors and text errors.  The most common error is for the "Use with" line to say Paddle Controllers, even if the game uses a Joystick.  Sometimes this error was covered up with black tape.  Other oddities include odd colors (such as a bright orange Breakout label), missing copyright information, and pictures that go outside of the box.

Silver Label Starting in 1982 Atari switched to the silver label.  These labels are either shiny silver or a dull gray color if it's a 1986 release.  The name of the game is displayed on a red stripe on top of the picture and the end label text is always red.  Sometime in 1983 Atari increased the picture size on some of labels and pushed the Atari 2600 logo to the upper right corner of the cart.  Some games such as Crystal Castles and Mario Bros. come in both styles and is quite noticeable that they cropped the picture.  Other cropping oddities exist (picture being slightly larger or smaller).
Stylized Text
Starting in 1983 Atari started using a stylized text for the game name on the main label rather than the standard block lettering.   Dig Dug appears to be the last game made using the plain text.
Gray Label
When Atari re-released games that originally came in the Silver Label style in 1985, the reflective silver color was changed to a dull gray.  This was most likely done to save money (foil labels are expensive).  The 1987 re-releases use a much lighter gray than the 85-86 re-releases.
Red Label During the revival years (1986 to 1990), Atari changed the color of the labels from Silver to a darkish red color.  Several Silver Label games were re-released in this style in PAL format.
B&W Picture
The original three 1986 Red Label releases (Solaris, Midnight Magic, and Jr. Pac-Man) used a black and white picture on the main label.
Children's Label All of the Children's Workshop, Muppets, Disney, and Peanuts carts came with unique brightly colored labels.  Yellow for CWS, Blue for Disney, Red for Peanuts, and Purple for Muppets.  The labels also have an cool looking grid pattern going through them along with the appropriate logo in the upper left corner of the cart.
Sears Text Label

Atari allowed Sears to manufacture its games under the name Tele-Games.  These games are exactly the same as their Atari counterparts but may have different names and artwork.  Sears chose to keep the Atari name on popular games such as Pac-Man, Asteroids, and Missile Command, but made up it's own names for many others (Combat became Tank Plus, Street Racer became Speedway II, etc.).

Font Change
Sears also decided to change their font slightly.  Notice how the S has been elongated and slanted.
Color Change

Much like Atari, Sears decided to change the text color on several of their games (usually from yellow to gold).  However it appears that Sears showed a little more constraint than Atari, as the text color changes are fewer and far between

Part Number Change

Sears games have at least three different numbering systems.  The oldest seems to be the 998xx, then 6-998xx, and finally 49-75xxx. 
Sears Picture Label This was the last style Sears used before ceasing to market games in 1981.  Most of Sears final releases (Yar's Revenge, Haunted House, Defender) came in this style, but some earlier text label games were also in this style.  These text label re-releases are usually incredibly difficult to find, and are highly collectable


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