Profit and Paratexts: The Economics of Pharmaceutical Packaging in the Long Nineteenth Century

  • Laura Mainwaring
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Literature, Science and Medicine book series (PLSM)


Popular narrative has equated branded medicines with quacks selling patent medicines to a gullible public. Mainwaring provides an alternative picture of branded medicines in light of the 1875 Trade Marks Registration Act, which enabled proprietors to frame their medicines as respectable brands within a system of ‘intelligent’ market consumers that included retail chemists, wholesalers, physicians, and the lay consumer.

Concentrating on pharmaceutical packaging and advertisements from the trade periodical The Chemist and Druggist between c.1870 and c.1920, this chapter broadens ‘branding’ to all paratext found on products, with the likes of logos, addresses, names of wholesalers or retailers, testimonials, stamps, seals, coats of arms, and dosage advice. Advertisements served as a medium for branding, and created understanding of these marks within the medical marketplace, giving the package further commercial value.

Paratexts like ‘registered’ and ‘without which none are genuine’, found on packages and in advertisements from the period, were used to claim authority, highlight ownership, and transmit credibility throughout a supply chain that had become increasingly depersonalised with the onset of mass production separating the producer and the end-consumer. A court case at the Old Bailey is used as an emblematic example to show that the multitude of marks found on a products’ packaging were formed at different stages of the product’s life-cycle, and that these marks were used to communicate meaning throughout the consumer chain.

This chapter demonstrates that paratext transmitted via the advertisement of a commodity allowed numerous messages to surround the product, which had consequences for how the commodity was understood, not only by the lay and medical community, but by medical historians reflecting on the period.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Laura Mainwaring
    • 1
  1. 1.University of LeicesterLeicesterUK

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