The Aesthetics of Labels.


"A good workman is known by his chips," says the old adage; a careful pharmacist is known, or should be, by his labels, say I. Sent out as they are upon multiform parcels to the homes of our customers, they pass beyond our reach and speak for themselves—and for us. It behooves us, then, to be very circumspect as to the outward adorning of our dumb representatives. A roughly cut, badly printed label, such as we too often see, is like a 'shocking bad hat,' on a well-dressed man, spoiling the tout ensemble and betraying the sloven. Pharmacists err in thinking their patrons inobservant of such seemingly small matters. The almost Egyptian mystery that surrounds the ordinary details of our profession baffles the looker-on, and he naturally judges as by our outward symbols and tokens, of which the label is the most familiar. Ex pede Hercule—if by the brazen foot the ancients estimated the statue, let us see to it, that the labels, our representatives, shall be a worthy exemplar of our work. The form of the label is the first point to be looked at. A round peg in a square hole does not look more out of place than an ill-shaped or over-sized label, and yet every day you will see a huge bit of paper on a 'wee little' bottle, or a diminutive scrap on a portly flagon, thereby neutralizing the good looks of both labels and vials. Of course there can be no definite rule as to proper sizes, but the pharmacist should train his eye and his taste intuitively to recognize the right proportions. Let him avoid exactly square labels, or those abortive attempts which resemble monumental tablets. Double lines in the border, and rounded tops will give a label, printed in black ink especially, a tomb-stone look that must be suggestive to the patient. Hogarth insisted that the curve was the line of beauty, but if he had seen the shield-shaped labels now in such common use for 'Elixirs' and 'Syrups,' he would have retracted his assertion instanter. Tastes will differ of course, but to my eye these pharmaceutic escutcheons are fearfully and wonderfully ugly. In fact, almost every irregular form of label, unless its matter is nicely distributed and its type selected with the greatest care, is apt to be very ungraceful. For steady use, the old-fashioned oblong label, in width not quite half its length, wears best and looks best. For packages, the strip label, long and narrow is preferable. Well printed and tied on, so that its upper edge lies on the edge of the fold, it sets off a handsome bundle. I annex a form of strip label, used by me for some years, which has the merit of novelty at any rate.

Label. An octagon looks well on pill-boxes, and is a relief from the almost inevitable circle.

But it is in the printed matter, its distribution and its types where improvement is sadly needed. Why pharmacists in the progressive age should persist in using the stereotyped phrases in vogue thirty years ago, the same old-fashioned type, the venerable mortar, alembic and retort; why we should do these things because our fathers did so before us, is a mystery. The art of type-cutting presents us with so many varied forms of letters, that numberless combinations, novel yet elegant, can readily be made. The chief error with pharmacists is a tendency to over-crowd their labels with reading matter, one would think they were trying to advertise all their wares in this small space, and yet the truth is, beyond the publicity of name and address, the label is not an advertisement, but merely a voucher for the contents of the package. A few lines, terse and to the point, are far better than a crowded jumble of disjointed sentences. "A rivulet of text flowing through a meadow of margin," should be the rule, as every printer will tell you. Useless verbiage and common place phrases should be avoided. "Fine drugs and chemicals constantly on hand," "physicians' prescriptions carefully compounded, &c., &c.," should be treated with the respect due to old age—and laid aside. If we are good pharmacists these antique puffs will be unnecessary; if we are poor ones, such stale bait will not lure customers.

The titles that pharmacists assume are, as a general thing, decidedly inappropriate, and needing amendment. There is no doubt that the words "pharmaceutist," or "pharmacist," are more nearly correct as expressing our professional status, although some contend that these should be peculiar to graduates. Be this as it may, the nomenclature of to-day is wrong. "Druggist" means no more or less than a seller of drugs, crude or otherwise, and implies no skill. It puts us on a level with any tradesman who simply sells to gain; the word should be confined to wholesale dealers only. Even when yoked with "chemist," as it often is, it will not pass muster. How many of us can lay the slightest claim to being chemists, farther than the ordinary requirements of every day business will warrant the title; and yet we coolly force ourselves into the ranks of a profession that requires the life-long attention of a Liebig, a Berzelius, a Doremus, or a Bridges! "Dispensing chemist" is equally absurd or even more so. Who for a moment, aided by the most vivid imagination, could picture the above mentioned analysts dispensing senna and manna or mixing a dose of oil! The term "apothecary," is so exclusively English and refers to such a different mode of doing business, half medical and half pharmaceutical, that it is totally inapplicable here. "Pharmacist" expresses exactly what we are; is not so clumsy as "pharmaceutist," looks well on a label, and, better than all, does not make us appear like the jack-daw of the fable, in borrowed plumes. In closing this homily, it seems almost superfluous to hint at such inelegancies as pasting one label over another, or over the seam of a bottle of putting it on crooked, or with ragged edges; but I feel that most of my pill-rolling brethren will bear me out in the assertion that these slips are too often made. "What is worth doing at all, is worth doing well," says another old adage.

The American Journal of Pharmacy, Vol. XLIII, 1871, was edited by William Procter, Jr. (Issues 1-4) and John M. Maisch (Issues 5-12).