Pharmaceutical Company Art Prints: Advertising "Giveaways"

This exhibit includes historical materials that may contain negative stereotypes or language reflecting the culture or viewpoint of a people at a particular period or place. These items are presented as part of the historical record.

The prints in this exhibit are representative of the gifts sent directly to OHSU from pharmaceutical companies or that individuals have donated to the OHSU Historical Collections & Archives. Throughout the years they have been preserved as a colorful component of the history of medicine. They were produced and distributed by companies with names that are familiar to all of us: Armour Laboratories, Squibb, Abbott, Upjohn, CIBA, Burroughs Wellcome and Parke, Davis and Company.

Although these may not appear to be overt pharmaceutical company or specific drug advertisements, businesses find various and creative ways to increase sales. Just as baking powder manufacturers, for example, published complimentary cookbooks, and insurance companies still today give away calendars, drug companies produced these prints with the express intent to compete for the consumer dollar.

The composition of the exhibit is in keeping with the sentiment that the artifacts of any given era can and do reflect a society’s perceptions, philosophies, prejudices, economy, technologies and so forth. They are vital to the study of social, political, cultural and economic history. Printed materials, in the form of posters, pamphlets, broadsides, trade cards, show bills, programs and calendars, are some of the richest primary resources for the study of modern society.

Ephemera, although difficult to define, is a term used to describe materials of a fleeting existence. Even though these prints are not “museum quality,” unlike many other forms of ephemera, the manufacturers of these prints intended that they be framed and even included instructions for framing. The prints are reproductions of works by often well-known artists such as James Chapin, Robert A. Thom and Currier and Ives.

Upjohn, in its introductory letter, states that its gift is intended as “an educational tool… to bring better health to more people… to develop a close rapport between physician and patient… to further confidence of the public in the medical profession.” Parke, Davis and Company commissioned the original oil paintings represented “…in an endeavor to portray the rich heritage of scientific and humanistic endeavor, which forms the foundation from which today’s medical service arises.”

If not altogether altruistic in their advertising endeavors, pharmaceutical companies have, besides funding research, provided us a window into the past. The study of giveaways or other types of pharmaceutical or medical ephemera can remind today’s health professionals of past practices and perceptions.

More information on medical ephemera can be found at these websites

Here Today, Here Tomorrow: Varieties of Medical Ephemera.
An exhibit of the National Library of Medicine

History of Pharmacy Resources

Emergence of Advertising in America

The Ephemera Society of America