Abbott Technicolor!

Monday, November 18, 2019

One of our most unusual and memorable salesman’s catalogues was produced in 1940 by Abbott Laboratories. Since Hagley is the only library recorded as holding a copy of this title, “Abbott Laboratories presents its greatest program of promotional feature productions,” I thought it would be fun to share with our readers.

This elaborate catalog presents a wealth of data about the latest Abbott pharmaceutical products. That may not sound exciting, but this catalog tries hard to spice things up. It was intentionally designed as a novelty piece to get the Abbott salesman into the front door of prospective pharmacies and capture the attention of purchasers.

Within its pages, the Abbott pharmaceutical products of the day are promoted through the magic of cinema. The story of each product is framed and promoted through the lens of a particular movie genre:

Hannibal crushed every foe but one...vitamin deficiency. If Hannibal had only possessed Vita Kaps, perhaps history would be very different today. It cannot be denied that vitamins are much more interesting when you present their usefulness through the lens of a faux heroic movie!

A one-night stand makes for great box office results, but characters engaged in such behavior would do well to be prescribed Bismo-Cymol for the treatment of syphilis: “It was true indeed that I got the sickness.”

Mothers of Israel used mandrake as a means of mercy to alleviate the pains of childbirth, but Nembutol is far more effective as a pre-operative sedative in obstetrics. 

This amazing catalog speaks for itself, containing previews of many more “movies,” a faux newsreel, promotional blotters and sample booklets for distribution in participating pharmacies. Salesmen looking to make an impression definitely could do worse than to trot out this remarkable catalog.


Max Moeller is the Published Collections Curator at Hagley Museum and Library.​